You Just Have to Keep Breathing

Take a deep breath. Focus on your breath. Breath.

So have advised everyone from Eastern spiritual gurus to basketball coaches before the big game. Focusing on the breath, they say, grounds you in the present moment. Easier said than done, but I try to follow this wisdom as much as I can.

My brother pointed me to a scene from the 2000 movie Cast Away that articulates this spirit. For those who haven't seen it, Tom Hanks' character is the sole survivor of a plane crash that leaves him stranded on an island for four years. He survives thanks to some supplies in the plane and more importantly the memory of his girlfriend Kelly with whom he was in love. One day, the tide washes ashore the remnants of a portapody which Hanks uses to build a raft and ultimately get rescued.

He returns to Memphis to the shock of his friends and family who had held a funeral for him years ago. His girlfriend had mourned but then married another man and had children. In the below three minute clip Hanks talks about what he did, the sadness of losing Kelly all over again, and how he needs to just "keep breathing." Here's a shortened clip with only the end part.

There's elemental wisdom in those last words: "And I know what I have to do: I have to keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise, and who knows what the tide could bring?"

4 Responses to You Just Have to Keep Breathing

  1. Krishna says:

    Why go back eight years into a movie to realize how life altering events firm up one’s resolve to do better in life? I quote the General Manager of Taj Palace hotel in Mumbai (India) that was besieged by Pakistani terrorists for the last 3 days who lost his whole family in one of the fires in the building. He was speaking to his Chairman Ratan Tata while he went to offer his condolences.

    “Sir, we are going to beat this. We are going to build this Taj back into what it was. We’re standing with you. We will not let this event take us down.”

    That sums up the mood of every Indian now getting back to work with a renewed vigor to deliver on a stronger economy, more vibrant democracy and a positively galvanized society – the envy of the Pakistani administration that seek in vain to break up. India will have more ambitious space programs, much better healthcare and far better education at a fraction of what it costs in the developed world that its hideous neighbors can only be ever more jealous of. They will never be able to come anywhere near our level of achievements because all that they know is go hat in hand to U.S (and lately to China) in the guise of “ally on war on terror” even as they remain its sole perpetrators.

  2. Jon B says:

    Ben,
    These very words streamed through my mind as I cut paths of fluffy powder with my snowboard this last two days. Great post. I hope the lesson you share breeds among your readers. Breathing is the one thing we can always do that produces positive results.

  3. Grace Boyle says:

    Ben, beautiful words and a great comparison with Castaway. It seems when all else fails or even when you’re jubilantly happy, that our breath still exists and it’s a steadfast way to keep up.

  4. I know Tom Hanks’ character is talking about the indomitable human spirit, though the script sounds like something cribbed from John Donne via Hemingway.

    Still, as gurus and coaches advise, focusing awareness on breathing enhances the benefits of exercise and training at the mind-body interface.

    I can hardly talk about physical and mental health without quoting Andrew Weil:

    “Breathing strongly influences mind, body, and moods. By simply putting your attention on your breathing, without even doing anything to change it, you move in the direction of relaxation…

    “Thoughts are the source of much of our anxiety, guilt and unhappiness. Get in the habit of shifting your awareness to your breath whenever you find yourself dwelling on upsetting thoughts.”

    Concentrating on the breath is the whole of my practice of meditation– available whether singing, dancing, or riding my bike. It’s free, portable, and de-stressing.

    One last quote from my personal guru:

    “As much as possible, avoid the company of agitated minds.”

    At least Tom didn’t have that problem on his island.

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