Not long ago I played a matching card game with my five-year-old granddaughter. I took half the deck of cards and arranged them on the table and we turned them over two at a time. The goal was to find a match: two kings, two sevens, or two aces. You get the idea. It’s humbling pitting your mind against the mind of a five-year-old in a matching game of cards.
The game reminded me that we spend a lot of our time trying to bring order to our world. We match our socks and put clothes in the right drawers. Shoes go in their places, hang-up clothes in another. Every kitchen has an order. Just ask the cook and he/she will tell you that every dish, pan, appliance, and utensil have a place. Every shop owner and every mechanic will tell you that each tool and wrench have its place.
Sure, some people are disorganized but even in their disorganized mess, most can still find what’s important.
Disorder brings chaos. Chaos leads to anxiety. Anxiety left unmanaged can lead people to a dark place, which is exactly where this world began, in a dark abyss of chaos.
The book of Genesis speaks of the beginning when there was no order to the universe. One of the great lessons of the Genesis Chapter One creation story is that God brought order to the abyss. God separated the light from darkness, water/land from the sky, water from the land, and day from night.
Plants were produced according to their kind and animals reproduced according to their kind. Humankind was given a special place and made in the image of God. At every phase of creation, God brought order from disorder. God values order. Order is part of God’s image. Therefore, it must be a part of ours.
Perhaps this explains our aversion to disorder and our desire to make sense out of life when what we once knew and understood no longer applies. Perhaps this also explains our aversion to change. All change does not represent disorder, but change does mean a reordering of the norm. While change can be good, if the reordering of values, customs, habits, beliefs, schedules, or traditions threatens the world as we know it, we feel threatened. This creates a fear, flight, or freeze response.
For Americans, the pandemic has caused one of the greatest reordering of life since the Great Depression. However, the pandemic has been a global event.
Globally, millions of people have died. Millions more have long COVID. Millions more have lost jobs. Millions more have lost friends, or have had health issues because of this virus. Billions have had their lives disrupted. Mental health issues have sored because of the disordering of our world.
Is disorder now the new normal? Can we ever expect or hope the world to recede into a more normal pattern of existence?
It is reasonable to believe that we will always desire to live in a world that behaves and responds in an orderly fashion. However, history is proof that the world has always been unpredictable.
There are things we know, things we don’t know, and things we continue to learn, and that’s the way it will always be. There will be periods that abound in more certainty than others, on a worldwide scale, and in our individual lives.
What do we do in times of uncertainty? What do we do when our anxiety levels are running high because of the disorder that is rampant in our lives?
There is a key in the Second Creation Story in Genesis Chapter Two where God creates Adam from the dust of the ground and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Out of disorder, God created Adam. It’s the breath of God that brings order to a lump of clay and allowed Adam and later Eve (created from Adam’s rib) to become living beings.
If you want to bring some order to your disordered day, to your disorderly life, to this disorderly world, you have all you need to start – your breath. I know it sounds too simple. For people of the Christian faith, it may sound too Eastern or too mystic but relax. Your breath is God’s gift to you.
Focusing on this gift from God is all positive! Beginners should start with brief sessions. Try five minutes. Close your eyes. MRI imaging has shown that a calming effect immediately begins when you close your eyes.
Inhale normally but as you exhale, say the word “caaaaaaaaaaaaaalm” or “reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelax.” Count 1,2,3,4. Then breathe again and repeat. Remember, whatever thoughts you might have during this time, (and you will have them), just push them aside, and return your attention to your breath. (Prolonged Exposure Therapy for PTSD, Foa, Hembree, Rothbaum, p. 42)
Focusing on your breath is an exercise that will help bring order. Most everyone discovers that many of the things that are vying for your attention, things that you are struggling to order in your life, things that are causing you anxiety will battle for your attention in the time you set aside to focus on your breath. Just expect that to happen. Competing thoughts will rush in. When they do, push those thoughts aside and refocus on your breath. Doing this brings calmness.
Want some proof that this works? Have you ever seen anyone hyperventilate? When a person hyperventilates, this happens because he/she becomes so excited, anxious, or fearful that his/her body speeds up the breathing process. However, the faster the person breathes, the less oxygen gets into the lungs. The person then panics and hyperventilates. To slow down the breathing, a person might be given a small paper bag to breathe into. Breathing into the bag slows down the breathing. As the breathing slows down, the person becomes calms. As the person becomes calm, he/she becomes less anxious.
Call this a breathing exercise. Call it meditation. Call it whatever you want. But if you do the breathing exercise described above, or one like it every day for 30 days, especially at those times of the day when you feel stressed, disordered, and anxious, you can bring some order to your day simply by focusing on your breath. In fact, you can change your brain chemistry.
For those that are spiritually inclined, remember we are a combination of dust and breath. Since the dust we are made of is constantly marred and needs to be reshaped, it is reasonable that we should pause each day and reflect on the breath that’s within us – given to us at the beginning which helps reshape us.
Jesus breathed the gift of his Spirit on his disciples, a constant reminder to them and us that there is grace for all of us who need a reordering of things in our lives. Who doesn’t need that? That grace is just a breath away.
Photo Credit: https://thepsychologygroup.com/avoidance/