Lately in my yoga classes I’ve been offering the following guidance. ” As you inhale, just be aware of this inhale. As you exhale, just be aware of this exhale.” It is simple and succinct, yet really hard to do. Before we know it, we are way off track, no longer following inhale or exhale, and instead recounting yesterday’s conversation with a co-worker and planning tonight’s dinner. The mind is very adept at wandering. Who wants to attend to the breath when there are so many other things that I can think about, plan for or recount? That is the point actually. How do we begin to cultivate a genuine interest in something as simple and as momentary as the breath? Breathing happens all day long with little to no assistance on our part. How can we pique our interest in something that we pay very little attention to and something that feels quite ordinary? Can I begin to notice all the ways in which I want to wander away from the breath? When I notice, can I return over and over again, with a renewed willingness to attend with deep curiosity and interest? The answer is yes, but it requires practice like anything else. You want to become a skilled soccer player, you practice. We want to become skilled at following the breath, we practice.
As I explore these methods over and over again, I question why is this a beneficial endeavor?
If I can build the capacity to remain interested and attentive to something as simple and as ordinary as the breath, maybe then I can sustain my interest when moments feel difficult. Rather than the knee jerk reaction of turning away from difficulty or maneuvering my experience so that it feels comfortable, maybe I meet my experience exactly as it is. Inhale, awareness of difficulty or challenge. Exhale, sustaining awareness on this moment, nothing else. Similarly, what happens when we experience pleasure? As soon as pleasure arises, we quickly begin to devise ways to hold on, to make it last longer, all the while the pleasant moments pass us by. Rather than a full appreciation of pleasure or comfort, we are caught in planning on how to sustain it. And then there is that space between pleasure and difficulty which feels neutral. In the absence of something more interesting, we often get lost in our thoughts and stories, far removed from the moment at hand. Instead of being in the constant struggle of turning away from experience or holding firmly to it, can we lightly touch all of our experiences exactly as they are? This lightness of touch calls us to meet difficulty with courage and vulnerability, and to meet joy with gratitude and humility. Underlying this is a deeper sense of freedom and open-heartedness. It all starts with a very simple practice. Inhale, I am aware of this inhale. Exhale, I am aware of this exhale. Try it out, maybe even for just five minutes. Practice cultivating exceptional interest in something that feels exceptionally ordinary. You might just be surprised with what you discover.
I’m teaching a 6-week series beginning April 12th at Castle Hill where we will explore practices similar to the one above. Please click on the link below if you’d like more information.