I’ve been noticing recently that I have a scratchy, wavering old lady voice. It comes from not having enough air to project the sound. The nerve connections to my diaphragm and intercostal muscles are mostly gone, so I can’t get good breath support. (One of the things I like about writing is that you can’t hear the way I have to break up each sentence. I have to breathe every three words.)
I feel sad and angry about the way I sound, the effort it takes to breathe, and I fear what may happen next.
I’m working this month with self-compassion. How do I move from anger and sadness to compassion?
Step one: and feel the emotions in my body. Sadness brings my shoulders down and weighs heavy on my body. My eyes water. My face crumples. Moving to anger is almost a relief. My shoulders straighten. My energy rises. My eyebrows move together. Focusing on my body’s responses helps me be aware of how the emotions rise, abide, and fall.
Step two: what’s the story I’m telling? I’m imagining that my ability to take in air will continue to decline until I die gasping. This might be true or it might not. I really don’t know. It’s not a very useful story, that’s for sure. I am happy to drop it; I just need to remember to do so.
Step three: suppose I were a compassionate friend. What would I say or do?
Dear sweet Kate,
Lack of breath sounds scary. Notice that when you slow down and sit up straight, the crackle disappears. We can spare the time. No need to hurry. Take each moment as it comes. Every living thing has a limited number of breaths left; you are not alone. It’s a human conceit to pretend we are here forever. Learn from other creatures. They don’t worry about their voices changing as they age. They don’t worry about death. Much like you, they continue to continue. They are not obsessed with goals or fame or accomplishment. Become your creaturely self. Enter this moment with thanksgiving. In this moment you are safe. You are enough. Feel the air enter your body. Feel your diaphragm drop and your lungs expand. When you breathe mindfully, no crackle. Grow in mindfulness and the crackle will lessen. Even if it doesn’t, you are a miracle, worthy of love and belonging. I love and appreciate you.
I feel better. I sound better too. Could this all be a story I’m making up? It doesn’t matter. I have found my way to compassion.