“Oh I’m a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I love…” – Eddie Vedder
A beautiful but sad song with an important message: have you told the people who mean the most to you that you love them? Have you enjoyed and been present for all the great moments you shared with others? Have you given back in equal measure, building those personal connections that make life so worthwhile?
Being present and in the moment is vital and can’t be taken for granted. For me, it’s not easy to achieve, and I’ve missed many, many wonderful moments, even though I was there. When you allow distractions to rule your thoughts, you aren’t able to experience the emotion of a moment, and you can’t give fully to the people around you, the people you love.
With the help of some very good friends, I’ve been able to work on being more present, and being more emotionally available. And the difference is astonishing: life is more vivid, emotions are more powerful, and the connections I make with people are far, far deeper.
One simple step has definitely helped me, and may help you: improving your breathing.
I would guess that most people are not breathing to their full capacity. Stress, fatigue, worry: all of these can cause you to breathe more rapidly and less deeply. It’s a vicious cycle: the less deeply you breathe, the harder it is to fend of stress and anxiety.
In the last post, I talked about starting each day well. Controlled breathing is one way I try to do that. My old habit was to jump out of bed and go right to my email, allowing other people’s problems to take over my day before it had even started. Resist this temptation. Give yourself a chance to prepare. Working on your breathing first thing in the morning helps build a foundation for each day and helps to center you, giving you a place to come back to during stressful moments.
How to Breathe
Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits, has written an excellent post on meditation that I’d encourage you to read.
My additional suggestions:
1) Start with a short time, as Leo suggests. As a beginner, two minutes seems like an eternity (and for the first few sessions, I kept checking the clock).
2) I try to work on my breathing at the beginning of each day, because I want to start my day positively. This foundation helps all day long – if the day gets stressful, a few deep breaths remind me of how I started my day well, and help calm me down.
3) I sit comfortably on the floor in a room with the curtains open, so I can also engage with the day and the weather. (I don’t do it in a chair, couch, or on my bed because I don’t want to fall back to sleep.)
4) For whatever time period I’ve chosen, I just count my breathing. A four-count in, and then increasing numbers of breaths out, up to twenty. Repeat.
5) Focus on breathing in deeply, and controlling the air and letting it out slowly. Build the depth of your breathing.
6) Write down every day when you do this, so you can track it over time.
After working on my breathing for just a little while, I’m a better listener, going beyond the words to understand the feelings and emotions behind the conversation. I’m more responsive, compassionate and helpful – from work meetings to dinners with friends. And I’m leading a better life – I have the data to back it up. 🙂
I hope you can use this tip to be more present, more open to the moment and to new experiences. If you can, you’ll be able to write a happier song, one without regrets. Because you’ll have lived a happier, more fulfilling life.
(Keith’s note: I haven’t called my morning sessions “meditation” yet because at the moment, I’m just focusing on the breath. I’ll be attending meditation training seminars in the coming months, and will write more on that later.)