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Pausing to Take a Breath

Andrea Cagan - Monday, July 09, 2018
Pausing to Take a Breath

I had a ghost writing client some years back who was a highly successful motivational speaker. She had all the accouterments that came from earning the big bucks: a house in Malibu, Italian bedding that felt like heaven, a closetful of designer clothes, and a recurring infomercial that lured a large audience of followers on a steady basis. She had hired me to help her write her umpteenth book that would most likely be yet another bestseller.

The things that she had amassed were enviable. Her kids went to the best schools, she had a staff of people who ran the estate, and there was always a buzz in the air. Sometimes it felt like a volcano that was about to erupt as she took phone calls, accepted speaking gigs and she hardly slept. Her career took up most of her time as she began selling her tapes on QVC. They were a cash cow, the money kept pouring in, but like it does with all of us, life kept getting in the way.

She told me she was happy when she was hit with a boatload of difficulty. Her daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s, her son was failing in school, her husband died from suicide, and it was all she could do to keep her head above water. But still, she refused to sit still and be with herself in the moment. I wanted to suggest she slow down and take a pause, but it was none of my business as she continued to chase her proverbial tail. It was all I could to get her to sit down and work with me for two hours.

One late afternoon when the setting sun was shooting prisms through the plate glass windows, she ran into the room where we were working, breathless as usual. I sat there quietly as I tried not to get caught up in her tornado of wild energy. “What are your goals?” she asked me quickly. “Where will you be five years from now? What do you want for yourself?”

I thought about it. I had a satisfying career, I loved my home, I had a great group of friends, I had downtime that I sorely needed and my personal issues were not plastered all over the Internet. I didn't need a staff and I could lie around in my sweats and read a book, do a crossword puzzle, or just stare at the walls. I’d been all over the world and I wasn’t interested in restaurants. My tastes had become simple and I wanted to keep it that way. “I have all the things I need,” I told her. “All I want is peace.”

A look of disappointment shadowed her Botoxed face. “Is that all?” she said.

I wanted to suggest that maybe she’d feel better if she paused in her ridiculously busy day to meditate or just think. In the words of Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, “Meditation is like relaxing into the truth.” But it was clear that my client didn't want to hear it. If she took some deep breaths, relaxed into the truth and really felt the things that had happened, there was no telling how she would handle it. Or if she could.

I left her sumptuous home and returned to the Hollywood Hills, grateful for what I had and how I was living my life. Another editing client, a celebrity actor, once said to me, “The people I know who don’t spend all their time working and traveling have a much better quality of life. But I have to keep the wheels turning or I’ll lose my social media followers.”

In order to get through life without going crazy, pausing and breathing can help us endure the tragic things that are going on. The only way to get through it relatively unscathed is to drop into the feelings and breathe through the chaos. Our breath is a gift. We don’t have to buy it, maintain it, or trade it in for a newer version. It just comes to us and doesn’t leave until we do. Taking a pause to breathe is my coping mechanism. What’s yours?

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