Just Breathe


I’ve just finished Week One of Sharon Salzberg’s meditation challenge. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always had a difficult time motivating myself to do any kind of formal meditation. Let me give you some background.

My first encounter with meditation was about fifteen years ago. One of the psychologists where I worked gave an informal presentation on meditation and then we had an experiential exercise. I don’t remember the details, except for the part where I started to cry during the experiential part. I was extremely embarrassed and had to leave the room. I’ve had similar experiences  in yoga classes. During the part at the end where it’s more quiet and reflective, I frequently tear up. (I once read in a yoga magazine that this is not unusual, so I guess I’m not too weird.) There’s a huge movement in contemporary psychology to incorporate “mindfulness” into the therapy process, and there’s plenty of research to back up its usefulness. I’ve tried to keep up with all the developments. I took an online course a couple of years ago called Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. I’d never taken an online course–it was actually a lot of work. We had reading to do, assignments, and of course, we were supposed to practice the various mindfulness exercises. Dare I admit that I often skipped the practice part?

I have no idea what I’m afraid of:

  • If I sit still I’ll be consumed with feelings I can’t manage?
  • My inner life will actually bore me to death?
  • I’m incapable of meditating and will be a failure?

So it was with a little trepidation that I committed to this challenge. But I was also excited! There’s a whole website devoted to these 28 days, and there are people blogging about their experiences. Some of the bloggers are experienced meditators, and others are novices. Every day I can peruse the site and see what speaks to me that day.  And there’s a structure to the month (I like structure!) Each week we’re focusing on a different aspect of meditation.

Okay, so back to Week One. Week One was all about the breath. The first aspect of meditation is learning to stabilize  your attention, and the way it’s usually done is by focusing on the breath. The directions are really simple. You take a few deep breaths, and then you just let your breathing settle at its natural pace. She suggests you do this for twenty minutes. When you notice thoughts, you just let them go and bring your attention back to the breath. Easy, right? I’ll include a link at the end of this post to a three-minute video that shows Sharon Salzberg teaching this.

Here are some random realizations I made throughout the week:

  • I can meditate in the middle of a messy room. One day I had the idea to redo the decorations on the fireplace mantle. This led to a lot of other changes–switch out pillows on the couch, bring things in from different rooms… I had stuff everywhere (it looked like a Hobby Lobby clearance sale), and I wasn’t happy with the way it was going. I wanted so badly to finish, or at least clean up and put it back the way it was. Yet time was running out and I needed to get my meditation in.  I was so proud of myself because I sat down, right there in the middle of the mess, and just did it. (I read somewhere that meditation is mostly about sitting down, shutting up, and seeing what happens.)
  • It does not kill me to ignore my phone alerting me of an incoming text, and I will remember to silence it in the future.
  • Sometimes focusing on my breath was relaxing and I felt all warm and tingly. Other times, I felt agitated and wanted to get up before it was time. Both experiences were actually okay.
  • It’s really hard to meditate with dogs around. Lily thinks she needs to be on my lap 24/7! And Larry thinks he’s a cat the way he nuzzles up against me.
  • I got tearful during a few of my sessions, but I was compassionate with myself (yea!) and was able to keep going without it being a huge sob fest (and even that would have been okay).
  • I skipped one day and I didn’t beat myself up about it. I did, however,  rationalize that there are actually 29 days in February this year, so I was still on track for the 28 day challenge.
  • You can’t fail at meditating! Sharon Salzberg talks about “The Magic Moment”–that moment when your attention naturally wanders. It’s in that very moment when you have a choice to act differently. Do you criticize yourself for this lapse in attention? Or do you simply say, “Oh, my mind wandered. Let’s go back to the breath now.” She says the magic moment is the ability to start over.  One day this week I found myself frustrated and getting irritable. It actually crossed my mind to say to myself,  “Hey, this is a magic moment. I can do an attitude adjustment right here and now.” I was amazed that just a few days of meditating was already making a difference.

All in all, Week One was freeing as I realized that every breath is a chance to begin again.

Here’s the link I promised you of Sharon teaching about the breath.

5 thoughts on “Just Breathe

  1. I’ve never meditated (at least in this form) Your choking up intrigues me…I’m on the other end of the spectrum,. I can’t cry,..or at least rarely..very rarely. and I do know why/ and the crazy thing is I can’t undo it. when I was 16 I got into a fight w/ my brother and ended up bawling like a little girl. I was so humiliated, I swore I would NEVER allow myself to look like that again. It’s like I shut the main crying switch off on the breaker panel of my heart. In the years since, I’ve only cried once (or twice) under very different circumstances

  2. I too end up crying sometimes in meditation. It used to be that I could not meditate at all without bursting into tears. I know why. It is all the reinforcements of my own negative self image that pop up, all the nasty things that have been said to me, that make me cry. I know this isn’t a course in Buddhism, but when my meditation goes like this it is a reminder of why I was so attracted to meditation/Buddhism years ago. It helps me to realize all those unkind words and events are in the past. The only thing that makes them real now is my own mind. Only my mind is taking me there. And I have a choice to make. Right now. What am I going to think about? It is my decision. It is training the mind that relieves that pain.

  3. Sharon’s meditation challenge is a great way to begin. She’s got a very loving, compassionate approach. I did it last September, and haven’t looked back. There is something about that commitment, and the awareness that you are doing it with others at the same time, that is very powerful.
    I meditate daily now, and blog it. Crying happens sometimes, it’s a moment where I know I am just really being, that there is no pretence or negotiation away, it is, you are, and its true. I find that doing this helps me to battle anxiety and deal with the aftermath of some very big life events, bit by bit.
    I’m also excited by the idea that there are all these people meditating at the same time, with the same idea in mind. Surely the sheer force of that will do some good in the world!

  4. Pingback: Seven Types of Self-Care Activities for Coping with Stress – Mental Health & Mindfulness

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