Monday is the first day of the month of Cheshvan in the Jewish calendar. It is my favorite month because there are NO holidays. I love it not because I am a curmudgeon, but because I love the spaciousness and breathing room.
We still have the regular sacred days of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, but otherwise it is a month free of religious obligations, without any special rituals or liturgy, a thirty day retreat as the nights are getting longer. The sun sets earlier, and we are easing our way toward the season of lights, the celebration of Chanukah, which begins on December 11th this year.
As I was writing this, I just paused to consider the phrase "breathing room." The first image that came to me was those weird smoking rooms in airports with the glass walls, where everyone can see the smokers fumbling for the pack of cigarettes, getting their last drag in before the flight, or taking the first drag after a long, nicotine-free trip. Last summer while on vacation I even noticed a smoking section at the beach!
I have long thought that aside from the intensely addictive aspects of nicotine, one of the most compelling aspects of smoking is the ritual itself and the deep breathing. You've done it or you've seen it–tap the pack, pull off the cellophane wrapping, open it up and the smell of tobacco is already seducing the smoker. And then there's the act of smoking, breathing in that first full inhale of smoke, and exhaling with great delight.
What if we took breathing breaks instead of smoking breaks? What if airports, office buildings, hospitals and other public spaces had a quiet meditation room where you could go and breathe? It could be quite ceremonial and ritualized, with special pillows or breathing outfits (a nod to the proverbial smoking jacket)? You could take off your own shoes and put on some special relaxing slippers that were only to be worn during breathing breaks.
Sometimes I sit and watch my cat sleep, particularly the way she breathes when she sleeps. I will put my hand on her belly and feel the gentle movement of her breath. (She does occasionally snore with a little whistling sound) There is something incredibly calming about it, even for me.
I also have some colleagues in Massachusetts who lead workshops for couples. One of their workshops is a Shabbat retreat for couples, during which they have some quiet breathing time together, mindfully following the breath of the other.
Maybe this all sounds a little silly, but I'm determined to find some new ways to get some breathing room. Happy Cheshvan!