“Breath is the bridge that connects life to consciousness, which unites your body with your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Each day, we get caught up with an endless cycle of tasks and at times, the mind slips into overdrive and we lose awareness of ourselves and the beauty of the world at our feet. We chase down tasks, react to events and affairs as they arise, we do our darndest to plan for the hour, the day, the weeks, the months ahead. We make contingency plans to cover all bases – if it rains tomorrow, we will go to the indoor playground instead of the zoo. Let’s check on the opening hours and fees for both the indoor playground and the zoo.
For most of us (I won’t use the word “all” as it is absolute, there will be outliers like true yogis), life, as we know it, is like a Shinkansen, every morning we get on our Shinkansen, make the prescribed stops throughout the day. The stops are planned for the most part, in between there might be breakdowns, unscheduled stops but we deal with those as we have made contingency plans or we fill in those gaps with our smartphones, or anything we deem productive or otherwise a good use of our time. At the close of the day, we get off and the cycle repeats itself.
As we face down the challenges, deal with encounters, go about our routines, big and small, daily and longer-term, be it managing a team trying to tackle the development of a new software, going to the supermarket, meeting new people, we constantly form judgements, thoughts rear their heads in our minds and make up stories to fill in the gaps in our awareness, based on prejudices, assumptions and past experience. This thought process becomes problematic when this goes into overdrive or in other words, when we are not able to properly manage our mind. This often happens without our conscious knowledge, the overdrive creeps in and such reactivity of the mind eventually becomes a deeply ingrained habit. When taken to the extreme, depression and anxiety can occur.That is when meditation is essential for our mental well-being, to bring a sense of balance and sensibility to our living, an equanimity to the chaos, disorder before us which is life.
In meditation, I drop back into my breath and watch my breath as it flows (whether it is feeling the rise and fall of my chest or belly or feeling the breath through the nostrils). I watch my thoughts float in and out of my mind as if they were actors on a stage. There is no need to interact with them. Eventually the thoughts dissipate. Mediation allows me space to find my breath and anchor myself to the current moment for the current moment, every second that I feel my sit bones on the chair, my feet touching the ground – that is life. Not our ruminations and worries about the future, not our regrets about the past. Meditation allows us awareness, to experience life as it actually is.
To quote Master Oogway in the movie “Kungfu Panda”,
“Yesterday is history,
tomorrow is a mystery,
and today is a gift…
that’s why they call it present”
I have to admit that meditation did not come easy to me. I would fidget and every so often my mind would be crowded with various thoughts – “what’s for dinner, what do I cook for lunch tomorrow, I have to buy tickets to the indoor playground, don’t forget to post the parcel, why did she say that?” And I wasn’t watching the thoughts simply go by, I would engage with them and have a conversation, and I would fidget and then give up and feel exhausted by that little exercise. Or more simply, I would fall asleep!
With perseverance, I got better at this practice bit by bit and was soon able to sit for longer periods of time. I’m still learning in my meditation practice, and I have realised that the duration of time that I sit for does not matter, what matters is that I do it and I feel light and alive once I open my eyes. You might wonder, why “light and alive”? Now, imagine the mind literally running a marathon – we do that every day, we think about a ton of things every day. Mediation is the cool-down period where the mind rests. After that period of rest, the mind feels revived again, enabling the sharpening of focus on the things that really matter.
I invite you now to gently close your eyes and take three deep, beautiful breaths. Continue to watch your breath, you can do this by feeling the rise and fall of my chest or belly or feeling the breath through the nostrils. Count to ten in your mind, once you watch ten, starting counting to ten again and repeat. If you lose track of the counting, just start from one again. Let’s do this for five minutes, and then open your eyes with a smile.. How does your mind and body feel? Do this every day, starting with five minutes at a time and you can slowly lengthen your practice as you wish. You may also consider doing short practices throughout the day to rest and revitalise your mind.