The word “inspire” comes from the Latin word meaning “to breathe.” I agree with the ancient Romans; to breathe with intention is to be filled with life and inspiration.
There’s this perception that meditation is only for really spiritual people. That it’s woo-woo or granola-y. But the benefits of meditation are hard science; studies have indicated that meditation can reduce blood pressure, improve the immune system, reduce stress levels, and much more.
Benefits of Awareness (or, Why I Meditate)
For me, the biggest benefit of meditation is becoming more aware of the present. Being able to notice the situation at hand in this exact moment. Of course, I plan for the future and contemplate the past. But most of us are not really here, in this very moment.
How often have you had a conversation with someone while your mind was actually thinking about what you’ll make for dinner tomorrow, or stressing about the meeting you just had, or thinking of the emails collecting in your inbox? It’s easy to slip into the habit of not fully living right here, right now.
When we are truly present, we can make more effective decisions. If I’m in a meeting and the person I’m negotiating with slightly changes their tone of voice, it might send me a crucial message to help me make the right business decision. For the future. In light of the past. But living in this moment.
Another benefit of awareness is understanding yourself better. When I make space to breathe mindfully, I start to tune in to myself. Unconscious feelings and emotions rise to the surface. But instead of feeling overwhelmed, I’m able to notice the feelings, separate myself from them, and let them go.
When we’re present, we’re also more productive. With awareness comes the ability to choose. We begin to see and survey the world around us, including our own habits, patterns, and communication. And we can consciously choose make better decisions, rather than being on autopilot all the time.
How to Breathe (or, How I Meditate)
Meditation is a practice. But unlike the saying “practice makes perfect”, the goal of meditation doesn’t have to be perfection. It’s simply a way to focus your mind and cultivate awareness. One simple way to practice meditation is just to breathe. I’m no expert, but here are a few tips from my experience with meditation:
Start small. You don’t need to join an all-day meditation retreat or an hour-long meditation class. That’s great if you do, but for starters, think small. Sit up (so you don’t fall asleep) and step away from your computer, cell phone, and TV. Take three breaths, in and out. And notice. How does it feel? Is your breath warm, or cold? Where does your breath come from, the chest or the stomach? Just put 100% of your attention into those three breaths, and notice.
Throw away your expectations. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate. Don’t go into meditation with the goal of having a transformative spiritual experience. If that’s your goal, you’re missing the point, which is to simply be present.
You might not feel any different after meditating, and that’s okay. Your mind will probably wander, and that’s okay. Let thoughts arise and just let them go, like bubbles. Emotions will come up; just let them flow through you, and come back to your breath.
Create a daily habit. Habits are powerful, yet so many of our habits are unconscious. Make a conscious effort to meditate daily by setting aside a special time and place for it. I like to meditate in the morning because it sets the tone for the entire day. It anchors me in a moment and no matter what happens that day, I can come back to that peaceful time.
Exercise Your Superpower
A guy named Moshé Feldenkrais pioneered a school of thought which integrates physical movement and mental awareness. He’s famous for saying, “If you know what you are doing, you can do what you want.” I really like that quote, as it pretty much sums up the concept awareness.
If meditation still seems foreign and confusing, these books are great resources for getting started:
Crazy Wisdom, by Chogyam Trungpa
Markings, by Dag Hammarskjöld
The Miracle of Mindfulness, By Thich Nhat Hanh
Search Inside Yourself, by Chade Meng-Tan
Meditation doesn’t have to be your thing. Focusing on breath is a simple practice that has worked for people throughout the millennia. But whatever way you find to build awareness, go for it! Maybe yours is dance, or gardening, or hiking. The key is to make this activity a priority. It’s an investment in yourself and your future.
Breathe awareness into your life, and you’ll find a deep well of inspiration. It’s a deceptively simple practice, yet a hidden superpower that many people fail to cultivate.