Breath/Not Breath

Until I was introduced to the practice of meditation, I had an equation etched deeply in my mind: Thoughts = Facts. Everything I thought about myself, what I assumed others thought about me, my fears, they were all facts and I held on to them for dear life as a definition of self. It was unpleasant and consuming, to say the least. So to me, the practice of focusing on the breath and letting the thoughts pass on by is quite revolutionary – and very difficult. When I first started meditating, dealing with my thoughts was a bloody battle. I addressed them with frustration and felt overwhelmed by my busy mind; I couldn’t keep up. I talked to a teacher about this (thank goodness for our teachers) and proudly explained that each time a thought would come floating down I would swat it away. Forcefully pushing it from my mind. There, I win. She gently suggested that instead of greeting these thoughts with anger, just to focus on my breath and let them pass by.

What?

I was convinced that if I didn’t actively push these thoughts out of my mind I would lose. I would drown in them and never come back. Nevertheless, I took that advice to mind every single time I practiced.

As I sit this week, and focus on my breath, I am reminded of those early battles. I am amazed that this doesn’t have to be a fight at all. It continues to take a lot of mindfulness and practice but I am letting these once gigantic thoughts pass by, undisturbed. Sometimes they still hit me quite hard but when they do, I take a big breath in and start again. Instead of chasing after my mind, desperately collecting my thoughts to create some sort of story or answer, I repeat: not breath, not breath until finally, breath. This method of Sharon’s has been so helpful for my judging mind. Thinking about what time the grocery store closes: not breath. Analyzing that great opportunity I missed: not breath. Both may seem really important in their own ways when they come up, but they are equal in that they are not breath. With that in mind, that grasp of regret doesn’t feel so powerful and I have a little more space to breathe. And the best part about this is that because we will inevitably get lost in thoughts many times, we get to experience this coming back over and over again, just as Sharon says. Each time a little more room to breathe, a little more kindness.

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One response to “Breath/Not Breath

  1. I tried the Breath/Not Breath method this morning, and I have to say I struggled with it. I became so busy trying to note what WAS breath, that when “not breath” came along, I found myself divided. It went something like this:

    “breath…breath…br…not breath!…breath…b…not…reath…br…NOT BREATH!”

    It’s like my mind doesn’t know where to focus the attention. Obviously the answer here is “the breath,” but then I find while I’m making note of the “breath,” it is in fact the “not breath” that’s running through my mind.

    I consider myself good at multi-tasking, but this time it’s left me a bit scattered.

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