I eventually ruled out mindful observation as a gateway to a meditative state. I also realized that although it would have probably been really beneficial for me to be able to chill out in the midst of chaos…given my current state of mind, it wasn’t going to happen. It felt more like running up against the same concrete wall again and again and again. There’s a point where you need to recognize that there’s a concrete wall in front of you. It was time to switch tactics.
I decided to explore methods of breathwork in order to help me focus on the present, and I started with a method commonly known as square breath. Breathe in for four counts, hold the inhale for four counts, breathe out for four counts and hold the exhale for four counts. Square breath certainly made me deal with the present moment. I found that hoIding the exhale triggered a panic attack, that was followed by a big and anxiety relieving gasp for air…which made the act of breathing in for four counts almost impossible. As I progressed into the exercise, my square breathing went more like this: Inhale four counts and feeling good, Hold the inhale and chill out, Exhale two counts feeling dread, Exhale two more counts while feeling the panic come into play, Hold the exhale while silently chanting, “help, help, help….”, Gasp two counts and attempt to chill out during the next two counts, Hold the inhale feeling okay but knowing what was about to happen yet again…and so on…and so on. Well, at least I was “in the moment”. It was time to try something else.
I switched to counting the number of breaths that I took rather than focusing on the rhythm. On one level, it was an improvement. On another level, it triggered my workaholic concept of time management. It felt like I was pacing inside my head the entire time, with every breath bringing a higher level of anxiety, while waiting for this to be over so that I could get on with my productive day. I think you could say that this was a prime example of someone who could have used some meditation to chill out and I recognized the irony of the situation. I began negotiating with myself. You let me have this time for say one hundred breaths, and I will not go over the allotted time needed. That way we’ll both win. The set number of breaths did help to dispel my time management angst but on the other hand, it never felt like I was able to delve into the practice of truly keeping the mind focused on the present moment. My mind either in the past, where I had just counted, and on the future, what my next count would be.
Over the next few months, I tried several variations of the breath count. I recited letters from the alphabet over and over with each breath, I repeated words or phrases with my inhales and exhales, and what I did eventually accomplish was to get in touch with my inner two-year-old… and not in a good way. I had unleashed that screaming pouting inner child who was kicking up a monstrous temper tantrum every time I sat down to practice: “I don’t have time”, “This is stupid”, and my favourite, “What’s the point? We’re all going to die anyway”.
The frustration continued to grow and despite my dissatisfaction, I pushed onward, reminding myself to trust the process, trust the guy who introduced me to this concept and to accept that change is usually a painful process. I have reached a modicum of success and that success has come with several adjustments that I made to suit my personality. There was a point where I decided to apply my functional approach of physical training to my mental training, which is to not force the body into a specific method but to adjust the method to suit the user. Everyone’s physical body has a unique way of moving and logic follows that their mental functions would also be as unique. I now use the timer application on my phone when I meditate. It allows me to be comfortable with the amount of time that I have predetermined to sit without the fear of wasting that precious commodity. I tend to use breath techniques that focus on the mechanics of breathing, such as alternate nostril breath, where you inhale through one nostril and exhale out the other and then reverse that process, while using your fingers and thumb resting on the forehead and nose can help you control the speed of your breathing. It can also be done without the fingers. Feeling the air move in and out in a controlled manner really allows me to hone my focus into the present. On the days when I feel the need to simple sit and breathe, I use mala beads, a string of one hundred and eight beads that my fingers slip over with every inhale. When my timer goes off, I am done and for my quantitative workaholic nature, this is perfect.
Meditation has helped me become more present in the moment and it has helped me become more present to the people around me. I recently took part in a meditation workshop that was held on Zoom. It was a three-hour event that went over some meditation basics plus the individual insights and experiences of long-time practitioners. True, a lot of elements that were presented were things that most of us attendees already knew, but as with presentation I’ve ever attended, there were new little gems of knowledge, some recent research, and some examined exploration. It’s a shame that many of the attendees probably missed most these nuggets of wisdom. Zoom has a chat feature, and it was firing off at full speed throughout the entire lecture. A group of people who were unable to focus for a small period of time on the simple task of listening. It seemed to me that they could have used some meditation.