The Art of Breathing and Just Being: Lessons From my Daughter

One of the single most difficult things I have had to practice in life is the art of being present.  Simply being shouldn’t be so hard, yet I have found it is.  It is something I have to practice, something, I have come to understand, that is much like breathing, I will never be “done with it”.   Doing nothing is surprisingly difficult.  Doing nothing in the face of horror is even harder.  When I have a great many feelings, sitting still and being present is all the more difficult.  The last thing I want to do is sit and actually feel.  Why would I want to do that?  Now’s the time for action (!) and yet, it is during these times that it is vitally important for me to practice being still.  Every fiber of my being is screaming at me to move, to make sense of, to understand, to find the thing, the motive, something or someone I can blame, something that allows me to say, oh yes, of course it was that, that’s why this has happened.

Yet, it is an illusion.  The feelings remain no matter what is said.  No matter what has been written, the feelings remain.  Feelings – grief, fear, horror, sadness, confusion, pain, suffering, outrage and anger.  Feelings.  Lean into them.  Do nothing.  Breathe.  

Emma, unlike me, does not need to practice the art of being.  She does this without trying.  It seems to me, as I watch her, that she comes to this idea of “being present” naturally.  It is not an “idea” for her, it is simply life.  Emma just “is”.  Emma is one of the happiest, most joyful beings I have ever come into contact with.  Her median state is one of happiness.   She is without judgement or blame.  She does not hold onto resentments or grudges.  Emma does not talk about people behind their backs, she does not condemn or bully.  Emma is not dishonest or cruel.  And yes, Emma is Autistic, which must not to be confused with “mental illness”.   In fact, Emma is the opposite of “mentally ill”.  Perhaps because of her neurology she is able to be present in a way that I do not come to as easily.  I must work hard at something she does not think about.

People say all kinds of things in anger, in grief that have little to do with anything.  People say things while trying to make sense of something that is senseless.  They latch on to an idea, they offer a reason, a cause, it’s because of this, or that they say.  Oh, that person did that because of __________.  We talk and reason and blame.  People say and do things we find offensive, things that will hurt us and our children.  When people are scared they say and do things they would not, upon deeper reflection, say and do.  So don’t do anything, I keep telling myself. Sit and be still.  But it hurts to do so.

Don’t say anything, just sit and be present.  And it feels unbearable.

Don’t move, just be present.  Look around.  What do you see?  What do you hear?  What do you smell.  What are you feeling?   I don’t want to feel.  

Close your eyes.

Breathe.   Fear.

Be present.  I can’t!

Breathe.   Anger.

Breathe.  More fear.


Breathe and just be.

Emma performing for us, Saturday evening


18 responses to “The Art of Breathing and Just Being: Lessons From my Daughter

  1. I think you’re right. No amount of processing will ever make sense of what happened. No amount of articles I read or interviews I watch can wrap my head around it. I put my kids on the bus this morning, and I still feel like throwing up. I snatched them up Friday afternoon and hugged them both fiercely, and didn’t let them out of my sight all weekend. Sending them back to school this morning was literally gut wrenching for me, and I’m sure all the parents in America this morning feel the same.

    There are discussions to be had, for sure. But for right now, as you said…we need to just be present and breathe. Easier said than done.

  2. 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟((((((((((BE))))))))))🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

  3. I will read this and let myself do that later. This will help me. I have not been able to process anything because of the work I am doing trying to dispel stereotypes. I do not want to break down crying at my friend’s house, although she is the most awesome friend in the world. So, I admit to speed reading this, starting to “go there” and then, not. I feel- afraid, sad, horrified beyond knowing what words would fit with it. Thank you for your brilliance in writing.

    • A buddhist once answered (in response to the question, but what does one do if someone is hurting another) with all the love and compassion you can muster, you defend yourself and fight back!
      Always loved that. And by the way, Paula, that is exactly what I see you doing. Thank you for that…

  4. [sorry in advance for the swear words]

    every time darkness looms
    i fear the face going viral
    single spore disseminated
    to all corners of the earth
    extrapolating the act of one
    as the label of many

    someone stole secrets from american company?
    chinese spy. shit. I look chinese.
    mentally ill mother smothered babies?
    postpartum depression. shit. I have depression genes.
    random violence by random person?
    loner, quiet, kept to oneself. shit. I’m an introvert.

    how many different ways
    can i be outed as an “other”
    and should that matter now
    i have survived childhood
    adolescence adulthood?
    yet fear festers bigger

    because now i fear for an “other”
    who has come through me
    i get to watch my beloved
    brace through childhood
    adolescence adulthood

  5. Even from a distance. From another country, a lot of what is being written and said hurts. so I have stopped reading.

    • Yes, just incredibly painful and hurtful and it puts our children’s, our friend’s, our loved one’s lives in danger. That’s the part that feels impossible. That’s the part that just adds more brutality to an already brutal situation.

  6. So true…I struggle with this every day. I was very goal-driven with a high pressure job before I chose to stay home with my daughter after the diagnosis. She is teaching me live in the moment, but I have a very long way to go!

  7. …is Autistic, which must not to be confused with “mental illness”.

    Reading your words I started thinking about my son.
    Today, someone – who visited him at school – told me he doesnt know colors or shapes there (although, at home, he knows all the shapes, colors, letters, numbers, etc, and even how to count, read, write, etc… and he is just 3). The same people also told me that his “illness” is what makes him not to show his knowledge at school.
    Who is really ill? Maybe the NT people at school are just to dumb for him…

    • It’s too bad the people who are trained to “teach” our children are often closed to the idea of our children’s competence, yet overly confident of their own.

      • Yes, this. I’m encountering some of this attitude this year. Fortunately most of M’s teachers have precisely the opposite attitude, but I’m grateful to you and to all the Autistic advocates I am learning from for the models of presumption-of-competence that I can bring to advocate as M’s ally.

  8. This was the greatest lesson I learnt whilst tackling my anxiety issues around my Aspergers, and thinking I always had to be proving a point or doing ‘normal’ things to fit in. Breathing and just being is such a relief! Thank you for writing on the topic, was nice to hear someone else had discovered the similar things.

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