Reflections for the inner life.
Circa 1997, I met up with a friend Keith in Chattanooga to go longboard skateboarding around downtown. At some point we ended up at the highest point of Georgia Avenue pointing our boards downhill. From where we stood it seemed like a slow and easy grade. My buddy had memorized the timing of the stoplights. To any passerby we must have looked absolutely ridiculous wearing those jumpsuits, knee and elbow pads…in my memory, I seem to recall wearing helmets and goggles too. Like two poser wannabe knock off Evil Kaneevals on skateboards. I can remember feeling tentative so I borrowed (or mimicked) some courage of Keith's.
We pushed off and glanced at one another with a grin, hooted at each each other as we picked up a little speed. Keith seemed so calm and free. I remember feeling terrified and tight. Midway downhill he glanced over and noticed that the adventure in my face had transitioned into terror. My feet were beginning to wobble terribly.
Keith yelled something at me that I could not hear at first. He yelled it again. “Breathe! Just breathe!” So I did. I somehow had the faculties to trust this high speed wisdom. The momentum was only picking up and my friend's only words to me were to do what comes naturally in every other moment…except when your life is flashing before your eyes. I breathed. I took deep breaths that I had never taken before. Within seconds the calm flowed from my head to my toes, literally. The wobbles went away and soon I was ripping down the remainder of that hill with a newfound calm that I could not access before.
Just a few weeks ago, my son and I traveled back to Chattanooga for a wedding that I was officiating. Ironically the groom is nothing short of a pro skater traveling the globe sharing of God’s love through the medium of skateboarding. So, at some point on Friday afternoon just before the rehearsal dinner my son called me. He had been staying with a friend on the mountain and while the were coming home from lunch, his buddy decided to test out his penny board on one of the steepest downhills between our old house and the lunch joint. My son recalls watching his friend take off downhill and witnessing his friend get the speed wobbles. Right at the peak of the wobbles his friend took two steps off the board at full speed. Classic rookie move. At first, Sam recalls, his friend seemed like he was going to be ok but they both underestimated what the cost of momentum would be. His friend hit the pavement face first and thankfully walked away to tell the tale with some of gnarliest road rash you’ve ever seen.
I’ve spoken on the topic of toxic momentum many times but I’ve never translated it through the lens of this memory. Speed wobbles are an image that anyone whose traveled way too fast on a skateboard can very quickly identify with.
On a retreat several years ago, a friend of mine arrived exhausted from the fray of running a non-profit out in Colorado. Not long after arriving on retreat, one of our facilitators had him on his back in the main meeting space walking him through some exercises in therapeutic breathing. Our facilitator shared with him that he was not actually breathing. She said he was panting. Over the weekend she continued to help him absorb and incorporate therapeutic breathing into his life.
Breathing is one of the most basic things we can do to settle down and combat the internal momentum that picks up when we feel threatened. Speed wobbles are the lived out expression of anxiety under pressure combined with momentum. Breathing brings oxygen to our extremities beginning with our brain.
Recently a friend described the experience of receiving the news of a friend’s suicide. My friend has, through the years, developed some high level discipline in crisis moments and easily remembers to “battle breathe” when life throws him a curve ball that spikes his hear rate. Breathing is our way back to ourselves. When our breathing pattern picks up momentum, our heart rate increases signaling to our brain and our body that we are actively being threatened. When we perceive a threat we operate from a space that is devoid of calm, compassion, curiosity, creating and connection. Typically we hear an invitation to kill or be killed…to dominate or be dominated…to become godlike.
Thankfully, our faith narrative invites us to “be still and know that I am God.” This is an invitation to pause, to take a break, to listen for what’s going on and release ourselves from the tyranny of that momentum and rest in the sovereignty of our benevolent God. That means I can learn to let go.
My life started with one breath and will end with a final breath. All of creation was formed by the very breath of God. The Palmist reminds us, "By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host. (PSALM 33:6).
May you, wherever you find yourself getting the speed wobbles, breathe deep the breath of God. May you feel your feet settling underneath you. May God’s spirit fill your lungs and settle your soul. May you find a new pace and rhythm more in tune with the way you were made. You were not made for speed. You were made for relationship and momentum, even in good things, can be a thief to intimacy. As we breathe we reclaim and restore that which has been lost. We slow down and practice the sovereignty of God, releasing our need to be needed and having to be so busy. If we refuse then we starve our brains and bodies of the recourse it needs to stay vital and refreshed.