in General

All We Have Is Breath

Breathing expresses the fact that you are alive. If you’re alive, you breathe. The technique is basic and direct: you pay heed to breath. You don’t try to use the mindfulness of breathing to entertain yourself, but you use the mindfulness of breathing to simplify matters.

— Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Cool BoredomTricycle1

The most important lesson from my readings into mindfulness and Buddhism so far has been how important the breath is. Strip away everything else happening in life and just breathe. It’s probably the most challenging part of really buying into living a life of mindfulness, because it’s difficult to turn off that switch in your mind that causes you to think. This is especially true with me. My mind tends to dart around a bit and think about various aspects of parenting, finances, work, and the people in my lives. It’s hard to make that switch and learn how to focus on what is in front of you.

The easiest way for me has been going on hikes. On a hike, I’m glued into what is in front of me more than anything else: is the trail going down, are there any rocks, are there people, anything worth photographing? While I push myself up the hills, the only thing I am fully aware of is how hard I’m breathing.

Slowing down life to focus on breathing is also a great form of stress relief. An over-active mind when dealing with stressful events is the worst. I tend to over-think things, replay events that have transpired and role-play better ways to approach those situations. The problem with thinking about things is it doesn’t make me feel any better about what happened, nor does it make things better for the future when it happens again. The best way for me to get past something is to either forget about it, or remind myself that what happened doesn’t really matter.

It’s done. It’s out of my control.

The most important thing is my breath and to keep me moving forward.

The easiest way for me to manage my frustrations with life and work is by going for a hike. Once on the hike, I find a quiet place to just sit and breathe. That’s it. In and out, while taking in my surroundings. Whenever I find my mind straying back to what was causing me the stress, I try to bring my thoughts back to what is in my front of me. What is current is more important than the past.

Of course, this is easier said than done. There is a reason why they call it a meditation practice or practicing mindfulness. It doesn’t come easy and no one is perfect. All I can do is to keep practicing it, becoming more aware of the triggers happening within me, and try to bring it all back to what matters most: my breath.

  1. The article in Tricycle magazine is an excerpt from his book, Mindfulness in Action. It’s currently my next book on my list to read after I finish another book of his, Work, Sex, Money