Pagan Blog Project: B is for Breath

So, yes, I’m really, really late with this post. 😛

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Apparently, it’s really hard to get into therapy in the mental health clinic at the VA’s mental health clinic these days. When I talked to my psychiatrist about it, he said that I should try to get into some of the groups that are available and use that as a way to get to know the therapists.

So, back in January, I joined an 8-week mindfulness class.

I was mostly thinking of it as a way to return to a regular meditation routine; I wasn’t really expecting to learn a whole lot. After all, I’ve been meditating in some form or other as long as I can remember.

I should have known better – everything is an opportunity to learn more.

First off – I find it amazingly wonderful that a conservative organization like the VA is doing mindfulness and meditation groups in their mental health clinic!

Most of my meditation experience has been using prompts, guided meditations, or music.

What made this different was that there was not a . . . FOCUS for the meditation that I was used to.

Except there is; there’s the breath.

Everything comes back to the breath.

The breath is the center.

The process is so simple as to be childish.

Just breathe, and pay attention to it.

People tend to think of meditation as making your mind blank and feel like they fail when their mind wanders all over the place. Quotes like the one below (often mis-attributed to Buddha) feed that mental image. So do movies and other parts of popular culture.

It may be stating the case too strongly to say that in meditation one seeks to gain nothing. For there is an increase in happiness and peace of mind. But when asked, “What have you gained from meditation?”, the answer would be: “It is not what I have gained that is important but rather what I have diminished, namely, greed, hatred, and delusion.” – Apparently NOT a Buddha quote, but from World Buddhism by the World Fellowship of Buddhists. 😛

This class acknowledged that your mind WILL wander – and actually the mind wandering and you corralling it back to a focal point *is* the process of meditation.

We were asked to commit to 5 minutes a day, with the idea that 5 minutes a day, most days, is more beneficial than longer periods less frequently.

During the class, I had all these things I wanted to write down and talk about and now I can’t think of most of them – isn’t that always the way?

Try it.

Set a timer. 5 minutes? 10? more? it’s up to you, but if you’re new to it, start with 5.

Sit comfortably, but so that your back is straight: a dining chair, office chair, cross-legged on the floor. The reason you want your back straight is to allow your lungs to fully expand. If you’re hunched over, you can’t fully breathe.

Close your eyes.

Start off by just paying attention to your breath. You don’t have to control it, just pay attention to it.

Your mind will tell you this is a stupid thing. Do it anyway.

You’ll start to think about stuff you need to buy at the store, things you need to do, people you need to talk to.

That’s ok, but when you notice it, come back to your breath.

It’s that simple – and that hard.

The class started out with 18 people, 3 of us women. One woman dropped out after only 2 or 3 sessions. Another woman only made it to about half the sessions. In the end, there were 12 of us.

During the course, some of the things we talked about were forgiveness and the fact that as you do this, as you gain experience with this, you might actually have some uncomfortable feelings, fears come up.

I was intrigued that a mental health clinic would be doing this, and so did a little research and found out Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is totally a thing.

That means I need to research it more. I bought two books:

Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World
The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress

I’m still working through them so when I come up with insights, I’ll write more.

But if nothing else, remember to pay attention to your breath.

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