We breathe continuously from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Everything around us changes between these two points – nothing remains – except our breath.
In our age of distraction lies the paradox, that your brightest future relies on your ability to pay attention.
Continuous attention to the now upon which our entire life unfolds.
Otherwise, are we really fully participating in life?
The Mindfulness Paradox
This ‘now moment’ spiel has been commodified recently by the trend of ‘mindfulness’ oriented self-help books. These are largely superficial western takes on the presence focused philosophies of the East (see Zen, Taoism, Buddhism, Yoga…etc.).
As a result, they tend to be more about being aware of how our minds are full (mindfullness) and how to navigate all the stress that brings about, as opposed to really dropping out of the inner narrative of mentation and into pure awareness.
That’s what the Eastern wizards were really talking about.
Not dealing with stress. Dissolving it.
Obsessing over Productivity
And yet we’re always busy doing something, obsessing over productivity and efficiency, allowing little time to drop into the stillness and peace inherent to the space behind the thoughts. When arguably, it’s becoming conscious of our breath alone that propels us into fully participating with life.
That’s a much more efficient way of orienting your attention.
You don’t stumble over your words. Get lost in thought. Spend two hours procrastinating and suddenly realise you’ve been tumbling down an irrelevant internet rabbit hole. Totally forgetting that you even exist.
We’ve all been there.
Fortunately, the continuous flux of the breath is the most useful tool for anchoring us back into being. Perhaps the most ancient and long-lasting technique of all having been passed down through various cultures over eons revolves around exactly this – the practice of meditation.
The Vital Energy Source
It’s only breathing that’s constant between birth and death. In India, they call the breath ‘prana’ which means vitality, energy, aliveness.
Your life is your breath, and the movement of your breath is like a mirror to the movement of your mind. When you are scared or anxious, your breath becomes short and shallow. When you are calm it’s generally deep, satisfying and fulfilling.
“A person who doesn’t breathe deeply reduces the life of his body. If he doesn’t move freely, he restricts the life of his body. If he doesn’t feel fully, he narrows the life of his body. And if his self-expression is constricted, he limits the life of his body.” ― Alexander Lowen
There’s simply no better way to bring yourself into the present moment than by bringing awareness to your breathing. It is an anchor from distraction that’s always available to you at all times. By placing your awareness on what’s happening right now we find a direct path to presence and stillness. And so focusing on the breath is for many, the preferred method of orienting themselves to the now.
Best of all, it’s the most energy efficient way of doing things. No unnecessary force is exerted mentally or physically. More on that in another article. It’s best you explore that statement experientially.
Breath as the Bridge
“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” – thich nhat hanh
Your body and everything inside of it is a part of the universe. Every cell, every particle. There are undoubtedly forces propelling the creation of all this and religion has desperately tried to build maps around it. But from the Eastern perspective, the words do not matter so much as the tangible breath that connects you to the essential life force.
Breath is the bridge and if the bridge is broken, you are no longer in the body. Not really here.
We instead tend to be lost in thought.
Ever have those days fly by without feeling as if you were ever actually really there?
True peace and equanimity cannot be found in this endless narrative of busy thoughts. When the mind is overwhelmed with constant thinking, we can become stressed, drained of energy and fed up. Frankly, it’s suffering. Not surprising when the brain representing only 2% of our weight, consumes over 20% of our energy.
Stress is generally caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there’.
Use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again and return to the present.
Here, with practice – notably meditation – you can find a sense of deep peace, tranquillity, and alertness. This is why meditation is a core practice in eastern spiritual frameworks. It cultivates a kind of peaceful awareness that seems to gracefully pervade through into every aspect of waking life.
The Productivity of Presence
With modern culture hammering us with advertising billboards and radio adverts that tell us how to look and what to buy it can seem difficult to find time to just be with ourselves. Add the internet to the mix and we have an endless sea of distraction that can easily lure us into opening 17 tabs and exploring instant gratification in the form of amusing cat gifs. But generally that form of procrastination is accompanied by a lack of presence and often some underlying guilt that spoils the experience.
Without presence, life passes you by. We hear others discussing in disbelief how fast the years are flying. This could be due to a lack of being (breathing). This scientific study on experienced meditators showed they experience a significant time dilation in the passage of time in their daily lives.
Presence means being at home in ourselves, being here, whole, and feeling fully into our sensory experience. Otherwise, we’re neither participating in nor fully experiencing what’s right in front of us.
With presence comes productivity There is nothing more productive than actually taking action, but the foundation of effective action is a clarified mind. And we once again fall back to the failsafe technique of mindful breathing to rebalance the muddled mind.
To be or not to be
You have a choice at every living moment, to be or not to be? To be in (being) the breath or not to be in the breath. And so in connecting with our natural respiratory rhythm, we return to our natural state. Moving from human doings back to human beings.
“The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness, and that can only happen when you’re aware.”