Sometimes it seems like the purpose of focusing on the breath in meditation can be misunderstood to mean that we are trying to "breathe our troubles away;" that we can bring our minds to stillness and deflect emotions if we can just breathe it all away.
Perhaps, like me over this past week, you wish you could do just that. But we can't. And we shouldn't try. Instead of thinking of it as trying to breath discomfort away, think of it as breathing our way through discomfort.
When worrying thoughts and uncomfortable emotions arise, we typically do one of these two things:
- Push them away
- Get caught up in the stories behind them
Neither of those helps. Thoughts and their accompanying emotions need to flow through us in order to move on. What we can try instead, is something in between. When those thoughts and feelings arise, we can let our minds consciously recognize them: Oh, sadness. Oh, fear. Oh anger.
Then, we can say to ourselves, "Okay, I'll take three breaths with anger."
For any feeling to move on, we have to avoid getting caught up in the story behind it - the why I'm angry, or what that person did to make me feel this way.... So, just, anger and three breaths. Then let the word go, and focus on your breath again. Maybe the anger is still strong, maybe it's a little less intense. Notice if there is any difference.
This process can repeat many, many times during a meditation. Or, one emotion may be replaced with another - anger might morph into sadness. Same thing: "Okay, three breaths with sadness." No story, just the breaths.
Maybe you'll need five breaths.
There might be tears. Tears of anger, frustration, sadness.
If so, you are in good company. Tears are a letting go of their own kind. Tears of relief. Tears of release. Tears are one way the mind and body unite in the healing process.
So, how do you go about this practice? Read through the steps below first, and then give it a try:
Rest your hands on your belly (this is comforting) or your legs (this is grounding).
Lower your gaze and relax your eyes. Close your eyes if that doesn't make you uncomfortable - it's okay to keep them open, but gaze downward.
Take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth with a sigh. Do that twice more.
Let your breath settle into its natural rythym and simply try to keep your awareness with it.
Your mind will try to wander off. No problem - just come back to your breath and start over.
When distracting thoughts arise, notice what they are. If emotions arise, see if you can name what the feeling is - frustration? anguish? disappointment?
Mentally say, "Okay, three breaths with ......"
Feel those three breaths fully.
If you need to, take three more breaths with it.
Come back to simply observing your breath.
As new thoughts or feelings arise, or the original one flares back up, repeat the process.
Start small - maybe five minutes to begin.
Breath is life. Life is complicated, breath is simple. Breath your way through.