Your breath cannot linger in the past, neither can it rush to the future. It stays here and now, against all odds.
Your breath is the never-fading rhythm of your life. It is what keeps you alive.
It persists when you sleep.
It persists when you cook, watch a movie, read a book or talk to your friend.
It persists when you break a fight between your children.
It persists when you worry.
And it persists when you laugh.
Your breath is your single reality. Everything else is a construct.
I see many people researching the mindfulness domain for answers to their complicated parenting problems: "How would a mindful parent tackle this?"
If there was one answer to give, it would be, "They would breathe."
Sounds stupendously simple. It is, and it is not.
It is simple because breath is the single thing all people have an equal amount of. It comes in great abundance and bears immense power. Yet it is underrated and underutilized.
We breathe an average of 20,000 times a day. Yet billions of people keep living their days without paying attention to a single breath out of 20,000.
It's not simple. Whenever you spare a few seconds to attend to your breath, you fight a powerful demon: your mind.
Your mind escapes. It has a life of its own: its own worries, wants, rages, and regrets.
Your mind is erratic when you are busy putting out fires in your daily life. Your mind is also erratic when you sit all by yourself doing nothing.
Your mind refuses to sit still watching you breathe. It rushes to the future, worrying and planning; and it rewinds to the past, regretting and longing.
Becoming intimate with your breath is the first step you can take towards mindful parenting.
Breath is the antidote to parental stress.
When something stresses you out, your brain short-circuits into delivering the fight or flight response, canceling out its sense-making routes.
You cannot solve problems and make decisions when you are in survival mode. 6 million years of evolution made sure that your brain reacts so that you stay alive.
One way to hack your brain is to bring your attention to the present moment.
Your breath is the ultimate thing anchored to the present. Paying attention to if for only a few moments brings you back to the present moment.
In the present moment, you are not a victim to your instinctual reactions anymore. You get to choose between several rational responses to what stressed you out. (I wrote more about reacting vs. responding in this article and in this past issue.)
Here are a few things about your breath that are worth remembering:
- Your breath is always present. You might even assume you have an infinite number of breaths at hand. There is no need to rush.
- Your breath is at your service. You can take a huuuuge breath now, keep it for a few seconds, and let it flow out at your own pace. And once it's gone, you can take another one.
- Your breath is powerful. Yet it comes with no cost and no consequences. It's the best addiction you may develop.
- You don't have to control your breath. It is in constant flow. You can count on it. No matter what happens, as long as you breathe, you will be fine.
You might try experimenting with your breath right now to see if you can attend to it for a few seconds.
Here's a small exercise:
👃 Take a deep breath through your nose on a count of 4
⏸ Hold your breath on a count of 4
🌬️ Exhale through your mouth on a count of 6
3️⃣ Repeat for 3 times
In each round, try to pay attention to how air enters through your nostrils, flows through your body, and exits through your mouth. Notice how it feels.
I just did this exercise and it took 45 seconds of my time.
Only 45 seconds. That being said, I know how impossible it becomes to spare 45 seconds amidst the chaos of everyday parenting. So here's a suggestion for you from the book Everyday Blessings by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn:
“...The breath and diapering; the breath and shopping; the breath and eye contact; the breath and playing with your children, or reading to them, or being firm about something, or putting them to bed, or talking with an older child; the breath and cooking dinner; the breath and juggling ten things at once and feeling like you are about to lose it; the breath and having lost it and now having to somehow pick up the pieces and move on. This takes no extra time. Only remembering.”
Happy new year!
This week I left out the articles to open up some room for my new year's message.
I am not a believer in attributing bad qualities to a year (2020) and loading high expectations to a new one (2021). I care about toasting on NYE and announcing my new year intentions out loud. But I don't agree with the thousands of posts I saw on social media telling 2020 to "go and never come back."
2020 is not to blame if we are failing to catch present-moment gems. And 2021 will not be the one to thank if we catch a few.
I hope to use this new calendar year as a canvas for fresh starts. I hope that we can all find inner peace, motivation, and joy to keep working on our intentions.
Life is a constant flow. Just like our breath.
Just like our breath, life persists. Let's just focus on living it now.
That's it! ❤️
Thank you for reading.
If you've enjoyed this letter, consider sending it to a loved one. It always makes me very happy.
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Until next Saturday!
Love, Basak (founder of Apparent)