This post appeared first in The Finger Lakes Times (NY): http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-take-a-deep-breath/article_35c988d1-2212-5ac9-8517-952df96e9171.html
Well, we just slipped past the Ides of August with less than three weeks left of summer (according to the civic calendar, which effectively shuts down summer on Labor Day rather than the autumnal equinox). The end of summer often means ratcheting up the pace of work and a stream of looming deadlines.
Somehow, even though it has been years since I followed an academic calendar, summer is still able to lasso the pace of life and pull it slower. Sure, house and garden projects proliferate in warm weather but those are far more fun and satisfying than shoveling snow – a Sisyphean cleanup activity that reappears within hours or even minutes of completion.
Sown into the second half of August is anticipatory grief for summer well before it is actually over. Even though it throbs with the sorrow for our loss, the grief is a spice that seasons bitter in with the sweet. The same flavor enhances New Year’s Eve with maudlin nostalgia as we shrug off the shiny promises in the year ahead, in favor of nursing successes from the year that is rapidly bleeding out.
These seasonal sentiments plucking on strings of regret and longing, are the mischievous enemies of mindfulness. They quiver in us and ripple across an otherwise peaceful soul. Not only that, they sow weeds within the lush lawn of the mind and disturb our outlook.
Mindfulness – being fully present in the moment – is impossible to hold when we allow ourselves to grow mawkish over what was or what might have been. Instead, we ooze with anxiety as if one foot is planted on the dock of the past and the other heavy upon the boat of the future. We are immediately anxious because it is an impossible position to sustain, urgently requiring a decision to jump in one direction or the other.
Take a deep breath instead.
A very slow, very deep breath – inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Breath controls the body, and the body controls the mind. Therein lies the secret of mindfulness. It is a bodily activity that brings the mind along with it, rather than the other way around. We imagine that changing a mental state is a mental activity when in fact, it is done best and most effectively with the body.
Breathing controls the flow of blood, the speed of the pulse, the temperature of the body, and finally the state of the mind.
Being fully present in the moment recognizes that whatever was yesterday is gone, and whatever is tomorrow does not exist. There is only now, this moment, and in this moment, it is possible to breathe slowly and encounter peace.