One of the tools that I learned as I went through the Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat spiritual practice to help navigate challenging situations was a beautiful breathing exercise. Even today, over three years clean of pornography, when feelings of frustration, anger, loneliness, and boredom turn my thoughts to fantasy and masturbation tempts me, I turn to this exercise.
Over the years I have been exposed to many guided breathing exercises but the one presented in the appendix of Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat has proven to be far more effective in my life. Whenever I am in a bad place, if I turn to this tool, within five minutes I find my attitude and my outlook improved.
To begin, I breathe out fully, almost to the point of feeling empty. At that point of emptiness, I share my situation with Jesus in prayer. When my body tells me that I need oxygen, I breathe in a satisfying deep breath. As I breathe in, I ponder all of the wonderful provisions God has blessed me with over the years. Lastly, I breathe out again. As I do so, I offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for me. I repeat this pattern of deep breathing and prayer for up to five minutes.
The book’s author, Fr. Gaitley, presents the exercise in the backdrop of Mary the Mother of God. You may recall that the Angel Gabriel approached Mary to let her know about God’s plan of salvation through Jesus. Mary’s initial response is, “How can this be?” Fr. Gaitley refers to her question as the “ecct,” which is the emptiness. The angel explains and Mary responds, “Let it be done unto me.” Fr. Gaitley refers to her response as the “fiat.” As Mary ponders God’s blessings and visits her cousin Elizabeth, she says, “My soul proclaims the goodness of the Lord.” Fr. Gaitley points out that this is the “magnificat.”
In the “ecct” we present ourselves and our insufficiencies to Jesus. Like Mary, we say, “How can this be?” In my emptiness, I try to join my prayer with Mary’s expectant response. She trusted in God’s provision. Her response was not doubt; it was wonderment. Mary explained that, since she “knew not man,” the idea of having a child was impossible without divine intervention (doesn’t this sound a little like Step One when we “admitted we were powerless”?). This is the first exhale of the exercise.
In the “fiat” we demonstrate our trust in our loving God and join with Mary in saying, “Your will be done.” St. Augustine explains that when our will conflicts with God’s we must submit to His will. This part of the exercise relates to the second and third steps. When we say “yes” to God and accept His mercy and grace, we are filled with peace and joy.
In the “magnificat,” as we breathe out again, we turn our thoughts toward gratitude and praise. This relates to Step Twelve: “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps we carry this message.” Because we are in a challenging place when we engage this exercise, initially, it is difficult to stay in an attitude of gratitude during the first few breaths. I may start by saying “thank you,” but often am quickly drawn to “but…” This is when I must turn back to my emptiness and begin the process again.
With these five minutes of guided breathing, I have never been disappointed. This breathing exercise seems to unlock my experience of God’s mercy. I believe that the reason the breathing works is that I start with my focus on me and my limitations, but the exercise shifts my eyes to where they should be: on our all-loving, all-powerful, and all-merciful God. It’s a reminder that the more we keep our eyes on God the more peace we will have.
Jim Gorski is a 57-year-old father of four children who has been married to the same woman for 34 years. He completed his master’s degree in social work in 1984 and has directed church music groups for the past 39 years. He remains a grateful child of the most high God and strives to trust in God’s loving mercy and His ability to provide for Jim’s every need.