One Deep Breath


Let’s start this thing off with a single, deep breath
One of the most important things we’ve been able to share with our community has been the paring of tiny, “laughably small” habits with actions. Meditating for an hour might be a stretch right now but imagine the power of micro-dosing your meditation with a single breath every time you check your email. Actually, you don’t have to imagine.

Do you crave more information? Or do you crave comfort?
Here we are… strapped to our computers with a bubbling sense of dysphoria. We are tempted to soothe ourselves with information. Companies are certainly bending over backwards to provide it. Social media is literally profiting from it. But trying to fix feeling with thinking is like—once upon a time—going to a fancy restaurant and eating the menu. Right idea; wrong execution.

I have a reasonably large appetite for information. So, when it comes in my feed or email account, I’m tempted to maw it down. To me, novel information may as well be a tasty snack in the pantry. So easy to say yes to! For that reason, I’ve been trying to pause before consuming. It’s worth asking in those moments, “Do I need information—or a dopamine hit—something to take the edge off?” Calories come in all shapes and sizes, it turns out. And we are what we consume—physically and intellectually.

I’ve managed myself through these moments (not always—but often) with either breathing or movement. That whole thing about thinking and feeling? Mindful movement straddles both by allowing us to achieve vertical integration—which I described a couple of weeks ago as allowing our smart, analytical bits speak to our threat-focused bits.

There are three basic approaches to doing this

  1. Mindful breathing: This can be seated meditation but it can also be done while walking or during more strenuous physical activity. For example, while doing light cardio, you might work on exhaling for twice as long as you’re inhaling.
    Zen tip: if your first and only instinct when you pay attention to your breathing is to immediately change the way you do it, you may want to experiment with simply observing things. Start there.
  2. Complex motor tasks: Juggling is kind of a fun example but it could be anything with a heavy focus on technique or coordination—including additional depth to things you’re already good with.
    Zen tip: if an exercise is feeling boring to you, it’s not because you’ve mastered it; it’s because you haven’t yet figured out how to explore it in greater depth.
  3. Intense exercise: To truly practice the skills of emotional regulation, you have to consciously push yourself into uncomfortable territory. What this feels like to you is completely individual. There is no single approach here.
    Zen tip: You need to dance with discomfort but not develop an aversion to it. Notice when you begin to negotiate with yourself, unconsciously stop, or drift away from awareness and into toward oblivion.

Your mind is a team effort
You may think of your brain as one cohesive unit but it’s much more like an organ system. In your body, your heart does heart stuff and your liver does liver stuff. They are part of a team but not identical. Ditto for your brain. So, it’s helpful to be aware that what you’re feeling or thinking is likely primarily coming from one part of your brain. It’s the cross-talk and interconnectedness that elevates your brain from a sack of meat to a full-fledged mind.

We are adaptable sons of guns, aren’t we?
There is no shortage of pandemic-born neologisms like zumping (dumping someone over Zoom), doomscrolling (endlessly scrolling through all things dystopian on your social media feed), and quarantini (which needs no explanation—only enthusiasm). Language isn’t where it ends, though. Work and socializing have changed too. You now have the option of bringing a Llama into your next group chat via Goat 2 Meeting, so don’t tell me this is all doom and gloom.

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