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Transforming an adversary into an ally from the space between

Have you ever been caught in a moment with someone that went south (A.K.A. bad) and you couldn’t get out of it? Maybe it even took you by surprise that the other person became defensive or resistant to what you were saying.

I admit I’ve been there a time or two (or three or four) in my life and career as a nurse.

A turning point for me, however, occurred many years ago when taking care of my ill family member, Mary. She didn’t want to a transfusion at the hospital and begged me to find an alternative

Reluctantly, I called up the nurse who was in charge of the transfusion center.

“No.” she told me. Flat out, No. “She needs to get her first transfusion in the hospital.”

I argued, pleaded, got pissed off, pissed her off. It wasn’t going well. Then, out of nowhere, between what I just said and what I was about to say next, there was a breath.

And even more than that, a new thought caught my attention in the space between the breaths.

213081 orig - Version 2The Space Between

The space between breaths is like the silent or rest note in music. It’s the pause. In health care and even in breathing meditations, the focus is most often on the in-breath and the out-breath.

But taking time to rest in that pause is the space where you don’t have to do anything. And at the same time, it’s full of endless possibilities.

It was in that opening I saw how I was blocking the potential for the transfusion nurse to become my ally.

Getting braver that there might be an opening in the conversation, I ventured forward. “I’m really sorry I said those things. I’m wondering, would you be willing to start this conversation over?”

She is silent.

I am breathing.

Then, she says, “Yes.”

Now, I don’t really want to tell you how many times in my early years of learning to use the breath, I needed to ask if the other person was willing to start over. But it was plenty.

What I can tell you, I was always offered that gracious, “Yes.”

We all want to have good connections with friends, coworkers and the people we serve.

However, when there are two agendas, like me helping Mary and the nurse doing her job, we can hit this wall of surprise, because we didn’t see the other person’s agenda coming.


This is a choice point.

Fight, Flight, or Breathe.

It’s like becoming a drop of water, which seems like it would have minimal effect, ripples out some spaciousness and alternative possibilities into the world around you.

This didn’t come naturally to me. I learned it through practicing mindfulness meditation. And through the many opportunities where I found myself in stressful situations.


 What I did learn with practice, is taking this breath can become your default habit, actually wired into your biochemical memory over the fight or flight response.

This is one reason I created the program Room to Breathe: Rewiring for Ease. This 7-week online program for health professionals (especially nurses) wires in that pause. It takes the randomness out of how to respond to challenging communications. And more than the pause, which is the starting place, you’ll find that you are more resilient and creative in handling an angry patient or a negative or nasty coworker. Without reactivity and perhaps even fully turning the situation around for the benefit of all.

Check out Room to Breathe: Rewiring for Ease here. See if it’s a good fit for you. I’d love to see you there.

Much love,


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Jackie Levin


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