Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Recommendation - Breathe.

You heard that right. Breathe.

We all feel dissatisfied with our lives at times for no apparent reason. We may look around, seeking a cause, and succeed in blaming some circumstance or person in our lives, but the problem isn't our circumstances or other people.

It usually (stressing on uuuusually) isn't that we need to work harder, get more exercise, earn more money, spend more time with our family, move to a different city, or be more charitable. It isn't that we need to break a bad habit or adopt a good one, even though these may all be really good ideas (and most of them have worked remarkably well with me).
But sometimes the cause of our discontentment is that we know we aren't who we should be - in some more fundamental and profound way - and we don't seem to be able to do anything about it.
As a consequence, we might get angry or feel hurt when we know we shouldn't, say things that we wish we hadn't, do things that we know are wrong, and don't do things that we know we should. We are all in this state to some extent. We feel discontent with ourselves because we know that we're less than we could be, but we don't know what we should be doing about it, if anything.
Should I just shrug it off, recognizing that I'm only human? Should I try harder to be better? It doesn't matter which you choose; neither solves the problem. We can't get rid of the unease, and we can't change ourselves much. Something should be going on in our lives that isn't.

And I was reminded of this quote by Mettá:

"The desires for the basic necessities of life can be satisfied, whereas the selfish desires of the ego can never be allayed. These do not spring from the chemistry of the body but are purely mental constructions—to be more and more, to have more and more: money, possessions, power, prestige, love; to outstrip and outshine all others; to be supreme. It is an impossible dream which, if realized, would not bring in its train either peace or happiness. The greedy, the jealous, the envious can never be satisfied because their dissatisfaction and unhappiness do not spring from any real deprivation of the essentials of life, but from the defects and distortions within their character. "
But I don't really agree. Life is not just about the absolute basic necessities that "spring from the chemistry of the body". Money, possessions, power, prestige and of course love are also necessities to a great extent. Not the crazy, greedy, must-always-have-what-other-people-have type, but just enough to be living a comfortable life.

The thing is, we live in the age of distraction. Yet one of life's sharpest paradoxes is that your brightest future hinges on your ability to pay attention to the present.

Life unfolds in the present. But so often, we let the present slip away, allowing time to rush past unobserved and unseized, and squandering the precious seconds of our lives as we worry about the future and ruminate about what's past. When we're at work, we fantasize about being on vacation; on vacation, we worry about the work piling up on our desks. We dwell on intrusive memories of the past or fret about what may or may not happen in the future. We don't appreciate the living present because our "monkey minds," jump from thought to thought like monkeys swinging from tree to tree.

We need to live more in the moment. Living in the moment, also called mindfulness, is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present. When we become mindful, we realize that we are not our thoughts; we become an observer of our thoughts from moment to moment without judging them. Now, according to some articles on the topic here and there, mindful people are happier, more empathetic, and more secure. They have higher self-esteem and are more accepting of their own weaknesses. With an anchoring awareness in the here and now, there's a reduction in the kinds of impulsivity (if that's a word) and reactivity that underlie depression, binge eating, and attention problems. On top of that, mindful people can hear negative feedback without feeling threatened and are less defensive.

And the first step to getting there would be to stop and breathe.

Relish or luxuriate in whatever you're doing at this precise instant, savor the moment... Often, we're so trapped in thoughts of the future or the past that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy what's happening right now. We sip coffee and think, "This is not as good as what I had last week." We eat a cookie and think, "I hope I don't run out of cookies."

Living in the moment has been proved to make people happier... and that's not because at that moment they're tasting molten chocolate all over their tongue, but because most negative thoughts concern the past or the future. As Mark Twain said, "I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened." The hallmark of depression and anxiety is catastrophizing... worrying about something that hasn't happened yet and might not happen at all. Savoring forces us into the present, so we can't worry about things that aren't there..

So as you read the words printed on this page, as your eyes distinguish the black squiggles against the white background, as you feel gravity pulling you to the earth, wake up. Become aware of being alive. And breathe. As you draw your next breath, focus on the filling of your lungs while you inhale, the stream of heat through your nostrils while you exhale. If you're aware of that feeling right now, as you're reading this, you're living in the moment. Nothing happens next. It's not a destination. This is it. You're already there.
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