Breathing: The Most Basic Spiritual Practice

We humans tend to make things more complicated than they really need to be. It’s not just me, right? I’m betting that you do it, too.

A small mistake becomes – in the privacy of the monkey mind – a Huge Failure that will haunt you for the rest of your days. A misunderstanding has the potential of wrecking an important relationship. A misstep means that you’re just not good enough, smart enough, experienced enough…

It goes on and on.

The thing is, we’re trained by the culture we live in to focus on problems. From a very young age, our parents correct us, our teachers put X marks through the answers that are “wrong,” and advertisers sell us all the stuff we need to be “better” people. No wonder we get brainwashed to focus on life’s troubles!

Yet truly, when you stop to think about it, you’re pretty blessed. There’s a lot going right in your life – especially if you’re reading this. When you have the time to choose to read an article about spiritual practice on an electronic device, it’s likely that most of your basic physical needs are being met.

Congratulations! That’s something worth celebrating! No, I’m not being sarcastic. I truly believe that shifting your focus to the things going right in your life can transform your experience in amazing ways.

But first, you have to train yourself to this new orientation. You have to unlearn that outmoded focus on your troubles, and instead point yourself toward your ongoing blessings.

The most basic way to do that – the foundational spiritual practice that underlies all others – is your breath.

Pausing to focus on your breath almost sounds cliche. It can be extremely annoying to be told to “just breathe” when you’re in the grip of a powerful emotion, whether it’s anger, grief, or despair.

So instead, try forming a habit of stopping to notice your breath several times each day, before you really need it. Set a timer on your phone, or put BREATHE post-it notes in strategic places around your home.

Make pausing to breathe between activities, even if only for one minute, part of your daily routine. Bonus points for thinking of one thing you’re grateful for as you breathe slowly in and out.

Then, when you need it – when that monkey chatter of self-recrimination, harsh judgment, or anxiety takes over – it will be that much easier to reach for this habit.

A focus on your breath gives you a chance to reset, to become aware that you’re focusing on what’s not going your way and ignoring the myriad of blessings in your world.

It’s the most basic of spiritual practices, and can have a profound effect on your life – with a commitment of less than five minutes each day.

Increased joy and peace of mind for five minutes a day? Completely free and self-directed? Revolutionary. Let’s all sign up for that!

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