One of the most useful techniques to apply to calm down when you are feeling anxious and stressed is focused deep breathing. The breath pattern you will learn this week helps to turn up the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, that branch of the autonomic nervous system known as the ‘rest and digest’ system. Generally, it is sedating to the nervous system, and induces states of relaxation, calm and well-being. It helps to extinguish the body’s fight or flight response and bring you back into a more balanced state of mind. The general pattern of relaxation breathing is to extend the length of the exhalation, in relation to the inhalation. For example, instead of 4:4 (in:out), you could apply a 4:6 pattern.
The effect can be enhanced by adding a pause after the exhalation. The pattern we will practice is 3:6:3 (in: out: pause). If this pattern feels challenging, then lower the counts to 2:3:2. It defeats the goal of relaxation if you are struggling to get the counts. The breath pattern needs to be within easy reach of your abilities in order to assure its effectiveness.
I found myself crying over my chicken pot pie breakfast this morning, as the marriage equality news from the Supreme Court came in. In part, the tears were of joy, celebrating the evolution of marriage to embrace a greater swath of our community.
Opponents of marriage equality have argued that changing the definition of marriage to include LGBT Americans would destroy the institution of marriage, which has been the same for hundreds of years. However, history shows that the institution of marriage has been evolving for a very long time in this country.
For instance, before 1724, marriage was only for White Americans, and then in 1724 Blacks could marry only with the permission of a slave owner. The freedom to marry someone of a different race wasn’t fully available across the US until 1967.
Marriage has also evolved to reflect greater gender equality. Under the centuries-old doctrine of coverture, the laws of marriage conceived the wife as property of man and their union was viewed by the State as a single, male-dominated unit. Not until 1900 could the wife own property in her own right, and not until 1975 could she have her own credit. Surprisingly, in some states the man had the right to non-consensual sex (marital rape) with his wife up until 1993.
Thus, as equal rights have grown for people of color and women, the institute of marriage has evolved to accommodate those changes. Today, another step has been taken on that path of evolution towards freedom and equality for all Americans.
My breakfast tears were not just joyful, however, as I also experienced a deep sadness that has been festering within me for a long time. The years of living in closeted fear and shame seemed suddenly to bubble up. It was like a sweet release – a lancing of a boil of subconscious self-hate. The sadness surprised me, given the context of such good news. But we all are enculturated into the norms of our society and carry the messages of our communities deep within our subconscious. Just as women and people of color get the messages of second-class citizenship, gay, lesbian and transgender folks learn of their worthlessness. Instead of facing the hate that is directed towards us, it’s sometimes easier to just stuff it away and pretend it’s not there.
The court’s validation of our relationships did more than simply allow us to hold a legal union, it supported, at least for me, the process of dismantling that internal programming of worthlessness, of abnormal, of unloveable. I felt like some self-hate was washed away, and in its place some room was opened up for more joy. It was a clear moment of insight, witnessing the power of acceptance on our well-being.
I feel thankful to witness so much development in LGBT rights in my lifetime. I was reminded this week by a friend that much of the world still suppresses the rights of gays and lesbians to live open, safe lives, even individually, let alone in couples. A friend’s friend from Nigeria was telling recently of his attempt to get a divorce from his wife. The judge needed a reason for the divorce, so he told the judge he was homosexual. The judge said, “No, no. Go back to your wife. She can fix you. Nigeria just passed a law in 2014 stating if you are an admitted homosexual the sentence is 14 years in prison.” So the man left the court and remained married, rather than face a jail sentence.
May we use yesterday’s news as encouragement to recognize that change is possible. May we use this progress to engender further progress in equality for women, people of color, the transgendered and all others who suffer oppression because of who they are.
May all beings be free.