Breathe In, Breathe Out
Meditation comes in all shapes and sizes. You can find guided meditations of all sorts online – some will help you gain confidence, some will help you be more productive, some will encourage you to love yourself and everyone around you, some will take you on a journey to imaginary worlds. You can meditate alone, or you can find groups, workshops and retreats to join. I even run workshops myself.
But the simplest form of meditation – often referred to as mindfulness meditation – asks only that you breathe.
Breathing is the most basic of human functions. It’s something that we’ve done since the day we were born, and which we will continue to do until the day we die. Every passing minute we are breathing, and we rarely give it a second thought. But it is a profound and powerful act, at the centre of our being in this existence.
When we breathe in we oxygenate our blood, which in turn delivers that oxygen to our cells. It enables us to live, and gives our bodies the power to keep functioning for, hopefully, many years to come. And when we focus on our breathing, and give it all our attention, we become present in this moment of time, and in the place where we are.
When we focus on our breathing in the act of meditation, and give it our full attention as we inhale life-giving oxygen, and exhale the waste gases of our body, it means that we are unable to also give our attention to the incessant thoughts racing through our minds at the same time. This constant chatter in our heads - which can often be negative if we are prone to rumination – can be overwhelming, particularly if we suffer from anxiety, self-loathing, or depression. But by focusing on our breathing, we can teach ourselves to notice when our mind wanders back to our internal dialogue, and we can return our focus to our breathing instead.
What this practice – of become aware of our focus of attention – does, is help us to realise that we are separate from the thoughts in our head, that they are not us, and it shows us that we don’t always have to listen to the deafening hubbub. And while we cannot silence it altogether, it helps us to turn the volume down, to take a break, even if it’s just for a few minutes, and regain the power of our awareness.
But there’s more – and this is where things start to get profound.
When we practice recognising when our attention has drifted and bringing our focus back to the breath, we are teaching ourselves to become aware of our awareness. It becomes a tool that we can use it to great effect to change our perspective. We can choose to focus on the things we have, rather than the things we are lacking, we can focus on opportunities, on all the things that could go right instead of the things that could go wrong, on our strengths instead of our weakness. We can take back ownership of huge swathes of our lives from traumas of the past, and choose how we are to define ourselves.
We can change our perspective on the world, and in doing so change ourselves and the world around us. We change the way we behave, and the way the world responds shifts accordingly.
And on a more metaphysical level, we also begin to connect more deeply with the universe. With each breath in, we are connecting to the elements of existence – the atoms of the air we’re breathing which were created in the hearts of stars, the passing of time, all that has gone before and all that is to come – and we are engaging in a practice of identifying our place in the infinite continuum of being.
By being present in this way, we get to truly engage with the richness of life right now, without being distracted by what we have to do tomorrow, by what happened yesterday, or by what’s happening on social media. We can be here now, we can savour our food, enjoy the sun on our faces and truly engage with the life that is going on all around us right now.
And when we breathe out, we can feel the physical sensation of release, and in doing so learn to release our internal tensions, both physical and mental. We can learn to release anxiety, worry, attachment, and free ourselves from the things that are holding us back from being our true selves. And we can find the courage to be better today that we were yesterday.
Meditation is a practice, like going to the gym and drinking enough water. We do it to feel better, to be better, and to move closer to the fulfilment of our potential. It can be spiritual, it can be practical. But ultimately, it’s our practice, and it serves the purpose that we choose for it. It is a tool, that we define and use ourselves. But the only constant is, there should be no expectations. It is simply something that is done, and it’s benefits appreciated later.