For the title of this blog, I pulled this line from the wonderful series entitled “Genius: Aretha Franklin.” It fits in well with the notion that many of us are striving to meet certain goals. And as soon as we hit them, we don’t enjoy the moment – we quickly move onto the next thing.
I know that I am certainly guilty of that. Very much so. I was born to be goal-driven and I find that I rarely stop to appreciate the moments that I should relish. Guilty as charged.
A good case in point: I’m on the verge of announcing a new site that I’ve spent months writing content for – I’ve written over 450 blogs for it since the beginning of the year. It’s a free site for those interested in ESG (think climate and social issues), particularly about how companies strategize, report and disclose how those issues relate to them. I’m basically done with the site – and of course, I didn’t stop for a moment to think about how I should celebrate. Not until I drafted up this blog anyway…
Artie Wu of Preside Meditation has a great set of audio files that comprise his “Calm Study.” It includes a number of practical tips. One of my favorite is about “breathing like scuba.” Artie notes that we think of scuba diving as a relaxing activity because we’re typically looking at scenery that feels other-worldly when doing so. It’s also relaxing because of the breathing pattern that you use as a way to conserve the oxygen in your tank.
You’re taught to conserve air by breathing in a long, slow and gentle pattern. If you breathe quick & shallow, you’ll consume your tank faster. It’s a safety thing. Breathing long, slow and gentle calms your nervous system. It can change your mindset quickly. It’s like giving your mind a massage. As Artie notes, another way to think of breathing is that it’s the only voluntary and automatic physical activity that we engage in. If we don’t think about it, your breathing is automatic as your subconscious mind keeps you alive. But you can control your breath if you want – you can consciously speed it up or slow it down. You can voluntarily manipulate it.
Breathing is the only bodily activity that’s like your monkey mind. Your monkey mind will carry on and chatter away if you don’t pay attention to it. But if you focus, you can control that monkey and shut it down. This is where meditation comes in – to help you focus on the monkey.
So focusing on your breathing pattern can have a dual benefit. First you can calm down in the moment when you slow your breathing pattern down. But if you practice changing that pattern, you can gradually change your relationship to your monkey mind. I’ll be blogging more about “monkey mind,” but the jist is that a term to describe the stories that you tell yourself many times a day.
Like with nearly everything, the trick is to remember to practice. Artie notes you don’t need to try to practice all the time. Just practice on a regular basis. Artie uses the analogy of little children, you want to give them a little bit of guidance & structure – but you don’t want to be so strict that they don’t find out things for themselves or don’t have fun in their life. I set up a timer to remind myself to breathe gently four times per day. The beauty is that I can practice anytime – even at work or a party – because people won’t notice. I feel like I’m a rebel doing this, breaking all the social mores…
At the 26:24 mark of this podcast about handling fear & anxiety, Jonathan Foust reminds us how the Buddha said “your house is on fire” – which means that your body is subject to change. There is impermanence. It’s the remembering of what is true, that all things change.
At the 30:15 mark, Jonathan notes that we all have this baked-in thirst for four things:
1. For pleasure
2. For being successful
3. For praise
4. For fame
And the corollary to that we have a fear of pain, of loss, of blame and of shame. These inevitably are tied to our core sense of anxiety and dissatisfaction in our lives. The good news is that it raises the question of “who are you in the absence of desire? In the absence of pushing away or aversion?”