We Forget to Breathe

Between my freshman and sophomore year of college, my first long-term relationship ended. It was the first relationship I was in where the “l” word was exchanged. I wasn’t heart-broken by any means, and neither was she. We both made a half-hearted effort to keep up a long-distance relationship for two semesters, 60 miles apart. When I returned home for the summer, we quickly realized that we weren’t built for spending a lot of time together.

Regardless, the experience caused me to return to school in the Fall in a kind of self-examination/self-refinement mode. For whatever reason, that meant combing through the university library and checking out a translation of the Dhammapada — one of the primary texts of Buddhism. That transaction set the tone for my relationship with Buddhism, and perhaps the most useful thing that I have learned — your breath is your link to this life.

We Do It, But We Don’t

Buddhist meditation is based on being conscious of your breath. I have always appreciated this as an outstanding summary of life itself. We are always breathing, but we’re not always breathing the way we breathe when we’re conscious of it.

Try a little experiment. The next time you’re feeling angry, anxious, stressed, or whatever, remind yourself to take 3 breaths and let them go. The moment that you initially got to take the first breath, you’ll realize that you were barely breathing. The breath was shallow, contorted, and suppressed. Once you become conscious of your breath, and that takes center stage in your consciousness, the feelings that have begun to take hold recede, become less severe — they loosen their grip on you a bit. You become centered again.

The more you stay with your breath, the more you realize that breathing, like living, is something we do, but we don’t do. Breath — like life — happens whether we hold the reigns or not. But like riding an energetic horse, when we fail to take the reigns and drive, we give up control, and just go where the wild horse takes us. That’s no way to live.

When we make it a point to breathe consciously, we make it a point to live consciously. Being conscious of your breath allows you to then be conscious of how your body feels, of what kind of thoughts and emotions are swirling around your mind.

Taking time to center yourself in your breath gives you the reigns to drive your body and mind — if even for a few seconds. Even those few seconds can make all the difference. Just like a wild horse, all you need is a few seconds to change the direction the horse is facing, and you can make a drastic change in your destination. That is all you need — a few seconds here, a few seconds there. Ultimately, you’ll find enough solace in those seconds, that you will turn them into minutes, or more. At least that’s how it has happened for me.

We Forget, And That’s Okay

You will forget to breathe, all the time. And that’s okay. We all do; we all will. You will consciously breathe much less often than you consciously do it. That is also okay. It’s always just one thought away. It’s your little trick, when none other are available. It’s the one thing you can always remember. It’s the one thing that will always make a world of difference. It is the victory that is always at hand, and where you are always the favorite.

You will forget to breathe today. And that is great, because it feels so good to remember that you can breathe. And when you do it, it feels like nothing else does.