It is hard to say exactly how the insights come to me, why or how they manifest in my head. Over the years, I have come to see a pattern that serve as a calling card for these insights to sneak into my mind and often reward me with a “eureka” moment. This pattern has translated itself into one of my most powerful mantras: STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN
These words have not only made my work better, they have also managed to get me out of challenging situations. By applying them into my life, I have discovered a stronger and more intimate way to connect with life, with the world, and with others.
Let me explain more what each word represents and together, what they can achieve.
STOP is about creating boundaries. It is about taking ownership of the moment and not let the events control you. It is about defining what you want and what you don’t want. What you like and what you don’t like. What empowers you and what doesn’t. It is the period at the end of the sentence, that gives all the words proceeding their own significance while marking the beginning of a new thought. STOP is a force that pushes the unwanted out and let the wanted in, creating a space that gives you the ability to do the next most important step…
Our lungs are the organ we use to breathe. They are a necessity for our survival, and symbolically perfect to explain certain dynamics of life. They bundle well these concepts of duality, connectedness, tension, reciprocity, and vulnerability.
First, our lungs exist as a pair, a unit of 2, and cannot function on their own. They are part of a complex system whereupon each component depends on the participation of the others. Without the brain, the heart, the veins, the diaphragm and the rib cage muscles, our lungs could not function as they do. Their purpose is manifested only through their connections, dependencies, and responsibilities.
Secondly, the lungs are only able to achieve that purpose because of this constant tension around them. By themselves, the lungs don’t have the capacity to expand. It is the muscles in your neck, between your ribs and in your belly that allow them to grow in size, taking in air, then deflate, making room for the next breath. It is this ongoing contraction and release, that tension that keeps you breathing. Just like the tree that stands tall, the sail that holds the wind, the beating of my heart, the sound of my voice and even the neurons firing in my brain, each fundamentally exists out of tension. Tension is life. It creates energy. It is movement and resistance. It is creation and destruction. And the absence of tension is death.
Third, the lungs exemplify Reciprocity. All they do is “Give” and “Take”. They take in air that has oxygen in it. Oxygen that was produced by organisms like trees, plankton, and plants. Now as much as the lungs would want to hold on to the air taken in, as much as they want to be greedy and keep it for themselves, they can’t. At one point the lungs have to give back. So they let go. After absorbing the oxygen, what they release is carbon dioxide. Which in return, will be used by the same organisms who produced the oxygen in the first place. The cycle repeats and continues.
Life is an endless cycle of dependencies and dualities. The ups are only ups in relation to the downs. There is not creation without destruction. There is no day without night. There is also no creativity and innovation, without an equal dose of stubbornness and mistakes. Nothing in the world exists by itself. Everything, including us, exist because of our relationship to what is around, to another, or to others.
Lastly, vulnerability. You see, when you breathe, something invisible enters your body. We could say that we blindly open ourselves and let the world in. It is not like food or liquid that you can see, touch and smell. Where your body has developed defense mechanisms to make sure you don’t ingest something bad. Breathing demands that you make yourself vulnerable. You can’t see what goes in and into your lungs. You have to blindly trust what the air around you is giving you. Think about it for a second, what is invisible to your eyes is what’s keeping you alive.
When I take that deep breath, I connect with all these forces and dynamics, opening up my awareness and making room for a new perspective. As I exhale, I allow myself to really sink into the moment. Setting the stage for the next step…
When our minds are stressed, our bodies tense up. Blood pressure increases. We produce adrenaline and cortisol, two key hormones that puts us into a fight-or-flight mindset.
Subconsciously, we become focused on survival. Often our instinct is to freeze. Our capacity for complexity and compassion narrows as our body goes into conservation mode. If I am in a place of danger, my brain wants to make sure that all the energy is allocated for one single task, staying alive.
Imagine a snow globe, imagine the globe is you and the water inside the ball is your brain, or your capacity to process; the snowflakes are your worries, your thoughts, the stuff in your head that keeps you up at night or gives you anxiety during the day. From the moment you wake up, this is how it is.
Your worries and thoughts are all over the place and you can’t see anything, not even the Christmas tree inside the snow globe. What you need to do is set the snow globe on the table and allow the storm inside to settle. This is the RELAX state. You see everything is still there, but instead of complete chaos, there is clarity. You can now see what is inside because your mind is more relaxed. This is the state that will prepare you for the next and final piece…
There is a wisdom that permeates in and around our beings, some call it our 6th sense, or our intuition. Our body and mind intuitively guide us to a state of wellbeing, as a form of self-preservation, to protect itself. But when there is too much noise, when we are too busy chasing our own tail, or someone else’s tail next to us, we cannot see, feel nor hear that wisdom. The clarity brought upon our relaxed state gives us the capacity to open up and listen with our hearts and minds, so that we can make sound decisions. Listening makes room for our intuition, it clears the way for those “eureka” moments to manifest.
Stop Breathe Relax Listen is a tool that can turn insanity into peace, the impossible into reality, and the chaos into calm. It is not a key to happiness but rather a way to face, process, and grow from whatever life throws your way.