hope, compassion, healingOnce in a while a story comes into your life that immediately touches that soft spot in your heart and gives you a gift to carry around and support you in difficult times. I didn’t know Jeff Guyer, but my wife was friends with his sister. A few days before his final moments of battling with Sarcoma, an aggressive cancer, he wrote out a post to his friends and family that can be summed up with a single word – acceptance.

His message to everyone came from his connection with Bernie Siegel’s quote in Faith, Hope and Healing: Inspiring Lessons Learned from People Living with Cancer, “Breathe in hope, breathe out love.”

The fact is we’re not all fighting cancer right now (although I’m almost positive we’ve all been touched by someone in our family or friends who has fought the battle), but adversities come up in life that can knock our spirits down.

Whether it’s a sense of battling with anxieties about what the future, cravings and urges for a “fix” to take away the pain, or a relentless form of stress from work or family, the deterioration of hope happens to all of us.

Done slowly and intentionally, “Breathe in hope, breathe out love” is a way of activating the parasympathetic nervous system which acts as the brakes to our anxieties. We begin to regulate our blood flow and calm down a bit.

At the same time it is an act of opening up to a sense of support during the difficult moments in life and activating your heart to cultivate compassion, which has been shown to be a source of well-being. Compassion implies that we recognize we’re not alone. We feel a connection to others with a sense of wanting to help.

To practice “breathe in hope, breathe out love” you don’t even need to be the one who is suffering. You can direct this toward someone in your life who is suffering. Breathe in the hope for them and send the love back to them.

You can also begin this practice with yourself, then move on to someone who is suffering, and then move onto a larger group of people who are suffering.

I never knew Jeff, but he gave me this gift that I now give to you.

Try this out for a minute, two minutes or longer. You can do this entire sequence or just choose one of them:

  • You – Practice breathing in hope, connect with your heart, and breathe out love to the rest of us. As you breathe in you can shorten the words to hope on the inhalation and love on the exhalation.
  • Someone who is suffering – Take a moment to think of this person and then breathe in hope for them and as you breathe out love imagine sending that love to them.
  • A Group who is suffering – This can be a community you know of, a country or everyone in the world who is currently suffering. Breathe in hope for all of these people, connect with your heart and as you breathe out love, imagine it seeping into all of these people.

This practice helps nurture compassion as a more readily available trait in you and perhaps, as some research suggests, may send out energy that actually supports the people you do it for.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Photo by Delphine Devos, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.