I have been conducting an experiment recently where I focus on the breath as much as possible through the day. Before I used to confine this practice to a small window of time when I first got up in the morning, but after discussing this practice with a friend we both decided to do it over the course of the entire day.
A FRIENDâ€™S TRANSFORMATION
Well two months later he said itâ€™s been one of the most transforming experiences of his life. He can observe thoughts and break patterns before they make him angry or stressed. He has arrived at the point where he realizes he is not the thinker. The thoughts occur and he is simply aware of them. Desires might arise â€“ like I would like to go run on the beach but then he gets to choose if thatâ€™s what he as awareness really wants to do. The discovery here is that he is not his thoughts.
THE BATTLE FOR ATTENTION BEGINS
So I have begun this practice of extending my intention to focus on breath to span the entire day. First of all let me just say it is no easy quest. In fact it makes me realize just how much work I have in developing myself. My focus flitters around like a candle flame in the wind. I will be focused on a couple of breaths for a few moments and then several random thoughts enter my field of awareness â€“ they flow like waves one after the other. At some point several minutes later I remember to focus on my breath again. Then the thoughts roll in. Sometimes minutes later or hours later my awareness is drawn back to my intention and I remember to focus on my breath again.
FROM FRUSTRATION TO APPRECIATION
Now at first I would get frustrated because my focus seemed so feeble. But eventually I accepted that the brain is doing its best to serve me, not wanting to forget anything and trying to â€˜figure outâ€™ what is best for itself. I appreciated the simple fact that remembering to focus on my breath was a sign of progress. And every time I returned to my breath I was able to observe with clarity my thought process up to that moment. Rather than getting caught up in the waves of my thoughts crashing upon the shore of my perception â€“ I rise several feet above and observe them crashing into nothingness. I can say: oh those are my thoughts, how interesting. Rather than â€“ this is ME thinking.
HEIGHTENED SENSITIVITY TO EGO
I can notice how my Ego interacts and responds to my reality. It was my physical bodyâ€™s birthday recently (September 13th) and I received several phone calls wishing me a happy birthday. On one level I felt very loved and appreciated. On another level I could sense my Ego increasing in the perception of its own self importance. This is not just a conceptual feeling. I notice Ego rising or falling in the solar plexus or sometimes in the heart or chest. If you notice the next time someone says something that offends you â€“ notice where you feel it in your body. If you do, youâ€™ll notice a general tension in your heart or stomach. Sometimes the tension or â€˜threatâ€™ will cause shallowness of breathing. This is where focus on the breath is so important â€“ because it automatically fills your lungs with a deep, relaxing sensation and when Ego energy seems to tense and impede energy flow â€“ a constant regular, deep breathing helps you to quickly become aware of the tension that you might not have normally noticed and allow it to flow freely. I want to point out that this Ego tension comes whether what youâ€™re responding to is good or bad. When people say good things about you making you feel more important and you allow yourself to believe it, you will notice an enjoyable energy mixed with an uncomfortable energy. If someone says bad things about you and you allow yourself to believe it, youâ€™ll notice a mostly uncomfortable energy. This is why you prefer to hear and believe the good and react negatively to the bad â€“ if you believe yourself to be your identity. But the important point here is that your body physically reacts and if instead of you reacting to your body you simply notice your bodyâ€™s physical reaction â€“ you can simply meet your bodyâ€™s tension with breath and relax it. You can become aware of your bodyâ€™s curious way of behaving and counter it with an ever present, loving peace through the breath.
THE EXPERIENCE OF LIFE THROUGH THE BREATH IS MORE RICH
Living through the breath sets the stage for higher level experiences. I notice when intending to live through my breath that time slows down. Thoughts, when they do come are clearer. And although itâ€™s very difficult to remember to focus on the breath AND have fluid conversations at the same timeâ€“ I notice that it is easier to go from focusing on breath to having a very fluid conversation and back to focusing on breath again, than it is to go from a mind filled with thoughts. It seems the quality of the interaction goes up when I go from a slowed down mind into a conversation. If I am real busy and I communicate with a person simply because they are on my â€˜to-doâ€™ list â€“ it seems my attention is torn between them and the next thing I have on my list. The quality of interaction suffers. The same thing happens even if they arenâ€™t on my â€˜to-doâ€™ list but Iâ€™m not meeting them in the moment. That split in attention causes an uncomfortable feeling. This feeling I believe is what causes social anxiety. I notice that when I agree to focus on breath AND suspend judgmentâ€“ I have a very enjoyable interaction and the other person seems to be lifted in the quality of their interaction as well. This doesnâ€™t mean I focus on breath while in the interaction, it just means that the focusing on breath and suspending judgment is a preparation before the interaction. The interaction itself, if fully engaged is timeless and so far in my experience doesnâ€™t have much room for thought outside of the moment.
When you live through your breath you feel more alive. You notice your body and brainâ€™s often automatic and seemingly chaotic responses to life. You begin to play a more active role in â€˜personal developmentâ€™ â€“ which is the discovery that this body, this brain is just a vehicle. With this realization you inevitably question how can I make this vehicle the best it can possibly be as I (awareness) travel through this life experience?
I only exist in the now â€“ where I always find my breath. And through my breath I can always remember myself. And in remembering myself I can observe my physical and mental nature with greater clarity.
BEGINNING A NEW LIFE THROUGH THE BREATH
Just set your intention to focus on your breath. Try to be as aware as possible of what it feels like to breathe air into your lungs and exhale. Notice any other sensations in the moment that come along with this focus. When your brain inevitably strays over the course of the day â€“ donâ€™t get frustrated. Get happy that your intention created an anchor in your experience. An anchor in the now that is reinforcing your behavior of focusing on the breath. When you feel like giving up and say oh the hell with it â€“ be aware of that thought as well! You are building a new muscle and the first day will seem like the heaviest lifting. The battle is not lost unless you say it is. The beauty of the now is that itâ€™s always just beginning. Re-start this practice of living through your breath as many times as you remember to; starting right now.