WHY (OH WHY) CAN’T I BREATHE PROPERLY – DAY 3
Sometimes we can’t enjoy calm breathing because of the impact of our very own mind… the below-the-radar bit of our minds, the not-quite conscious bit that isn’t easy to spot, but that is pulling a lot of the levers of our lives.
If you notice the breath right now as short or tight, your subconscious may remember that the last time your breath was like this it signalled danger, fear and panic. The immediate reaction can be “something bad might be about to happen”, which instantly triggers preparation to fight or flight and the breath goes into the “collect oxygen mode” of short, shallow breaths.
For some people, becoming aware of the breath – in an attempt to get calm – leads to even shorter, tighter and more horrid breaths. And causes panic.
Every moment of our day is being analysed by our subconscious mind. It takes in sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch, and compares them to past experiences. Its task is to evaluate these ‘sense experiences’ as safe or unsafe. See a long green thing on the ground and you jump back, because in that immediate instant the subconscious says, “Dangerous…might be a snake!”. Moments later the conscious mind goes, “No (silly) – it’s a stick” (spot the self-criticism!).
‘Safe or unsafe’ are felt as ‘pleasant’ or ‘unpleasant’ sensations and interpreted as ‘nice‘ or ‘nasty’. A habitual reaction sets in our behaviours to ‘get more’ or ‘get rid’. The pure stimulation of the 5 senses cascades in this way into our actions.
In short, when we pay attention to a breath, the touch sensors become active, and so does the detection mechanism to decide if this breath is nice or nasty. Then the judging mechanism kicks in and decides whether to change the breath.
What happens if we decide to suspend the judgement mechanism on the breath? What happens if we keep our attention at the level of the detection mechanism?
I invite you to discover for yourself what is it like to feel a breath in an atmosphere of kindness, putting any comparison of nice/nasty on hold.
What happens if we decide to do this for just one breath? No more than one.
Does the “how it ought to be/used to be/should be” voice become quieter? Or if you hear the judging mind, is it possible not to act on what it says?
After one breath, try taking the mind elsewhere – maybe to what you will be eating for dinner – to avoid getting tangled into the old patterns.
Paying attention to just one breath can make this stage of the journey to relaxed breathing easier. Because if you try to sustain this mental attitude of non-judging to a whole stream of the breaths, or 10 minutes of breathing, it can trigger stress. Then the old reactionary judging, fixing and changing behaviours can accidentally check back in.
Repeating ‘just one breath’ as often as you can, to get the hang of suspending the judging mind.
This does not mean that this one breath will be lovely and calm – yet. We are building towards that in this series, in small steps. For now, the task is to learn how to stop our own minds making the breath more difficult through
misplaced, if heroic, attempts to get a good breathing pattern. Bless it.
John Welwood: Forget about enlightenment
Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be,
Not the saint you are striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You are already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
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