Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Learning to breathe


I discovered this past weekend that I forget to breathe.

Sure, my body does that whole moving-the-air-in-and-out-of-my-lungs thing, but only to the extent that it needs to survive. And while that can sustain me physically for the short term, long term non-breathing, as I just discovered, is not really such a good idea.

So I spent this past weekend waaaaaay out of my comfort zone and encountered my first experience with mindfulness, which means (definition attributed to John Kabat-Zinn) "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." I am not by any means well-versed in this enough to adequately explain it, but the conclusions I came to were that practicing this - albeit in an abbreviated sense - helps and allows - almost gives one permission - to have any feeling, acknowledge it and accept it as it is. In doing that, your ruminations (you know, those obsessive thoughts that you go over and over in your mind...) decrease, thus reducing mental distress.

It was tough. It was tough to get to that place - or even near it. It meant slowing down when everything I knew was on overdrive, and digging deep in places I didn't want to go, and being calm when I didn't feel calm, and feeling emotion that I didn't want to feel.

And I wasn't all in. I mean, I tried, but in the deep, dark recesses of my brain, I was pushing all that potential zen and calmness away in favor of all the things that my brain is convinced it absolutely has to think about all the time. I'm tired of revisiting the past. The present is fleeting. Let's move on to the future. C'mon, c'mon. I got things to do here. It wasn't until after I left that place of sanctity and got back home to the craziness that I seemed so hell bent on getting back to that I started to get it.

I started to breathe. Just a little.

Because here's what I learned. I learned that no matter what, my body can't keep up with my mind. And my mind isn't taking care of itself. And that I need to think about breathing. Not all the time. But every once in awhile.

I need to - and have started to - get into the habit of taking just a moment throughout the day to do a very brief self-check. To make sure I'm breathing. Not just that in-and-out breathing necessary for life. But that breathing that gives you pause. That comes from within. The breathing that starts from the bottom of your stomach and goes all the way to your shoulders and resets your whole body when you finally breath it all out. The breathing that says, "OK. Slow down. Check in. Everything all right here?" Mindful breathing, if you will.

Coupled with that, and with some spiritual guidance that I never really believed existed, I started to buy into the idea of training my mind to live more in the present and less on the "Oh my God what's going to happen tomorrow."

It's not the first time I've considered this. Months and months ago, I downloaded a book by Jeff Goins called The In-Betweens - Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing. The title basically says it all. We forget to realize the in-betweens in our lives. The present. Everything that happens while we're waiting for the next thing. It's learning the value of waiting, and to embrace all the things that we're missing that happen during that time.

I finally got around to finishing his book on the plane ride home. How sad - and ironic - is that? But between his book, the insight I gained this past weekend, and the utter chaos that has been my life for more than a year, I discovered that in my quest to "get through" what is my life, I'm losing out on the here and now. The in-betweens.

What does that mean? It means spending less time being pissed off that the dog won't poop on our 7 am walk and more time enjoying the sunrise and the crisp morning air. It means making the time as soon as I get home to sit with my kid and talk about his day without checking my phone or thinking about all the crap I have to do before I can even think about going to bed. It means consciously stopping my mind from wondering how the hell I'm going to get through next week and next month and just get through this day and find one thing to be thankful for at the end of it.

It means taking the time to acknowledge what I'm feeling without beating myself up that I'm feeling it or trying to make it go away.

It means remembering to breathe.