Got 8 hours of sleep last night — actually, I ran out of steam about 9:30 and lay down on the couch while my spouse was watching t.v., and slept till about 10:45. Then I woke up and watched a little t.v. … and went to bed at 11:30. Woke up at 6:30, so that gives me 7 continuous hours (not bad, compared to how I’ve been doing lately) plus a little over an hour, for 8 hours total.
I know I’m supposed to get 8 hours of continuous, restful sleep, but please. Life is just not the sort of experience right now that lends itself to total relaxation and restful sleep. I’ll be happy with what I can get, and try to not sabotage myself this weekend. I’ve got some travel going on this afternoon and evening, so it may be tough to get enough sleep, but I can always nap in the afternoon, I suppose. Maybe…
Anyway, I got up this morning and did my breathing exercises. When I first started doing this regularly, several months back, I tried to focus only on my breath — put everything else out of my mind, and just focus my full attention on the in-breath and out-breath. Okay, that’s good, but eventually I found my mind wandering and flitting about wherever it chose. I kept the breathing steady, but my mind was all over the place.
I was feeling sort of bad about that, thinking I was failing at this, not being able to keep my mind focused… but then it occurred to me that it’s actually pretty useful for all this “stuff” to be coming to mind while I’m doing my breathing.
See, here’s the thing — this steady, deep breathing calms me down physically. It slows my heart rate and really helps tone down the stress that’s going on with me. It also fills me – when I get to the zone – with a sense of well-being and calm that I can’t get anywhere else in my life.
So, when all this “stuff” starts getting riled up in me, when I think about it, I can feel my breathing speed up and my heart rate too. But when that happens, I can consciously slow my breathing, and get my heart rate down, and I can change my stress level while I’m thinking about this stuff, to something that’s way less than it is, when I’m just thinking/spinning about it and not doing anything about the quality of my experience.
When I start to “spin” and get all riled, consciously changing my breathing and my feelings about it, actually helps me get it under control — well, not control, per se, but rather it helps me to have a different way of thinking about it and a different way of approaching the problems.
So it’s actually good that all that stuff comes up when I’m sitting and breathing. It’s my chance to turn it around, to change it, to make it into something other than something that just drives me, day in and day out.
Maybe that’s what people are doing when they sit za-zen for long periods of time. Or maybe it’s not what they are doing, but what they could be doing. I don’t know. I’ve always wondered what the attraction is for sitting still all day and all night… I guess it takes all kinds.
In my case, I think it makes more sense to sit for shorter periods of time to get a handle on my experience each day. I’ve done it at work, a few times, and it seems to have helped. But the times when I did step away, I wasn’t actually “working on” any particular experience or feeling. I was just sitting for the sake of sitting and breathing.
Hm. I’ll have to try that intermittent stopping-and-breathing when I have specific problems I need to address. I think that can help me. Logically, I know that reducing stress levels around problems helps with problem-solving activities. And I know that sitting and breathing reduces stress levels. And I know that sitting and breathing with specific problems helps me feel differently about them. So, sitting and breathing on a regular basis during the day — or whenever a real problem comes up that I am getting stuck on — can be a valuable practice and tool for me. Anytime, anywhere. If I can manage to take just 2 minutes between my tasks to slow down my breathing, to settle down and just sit… it can be incredibly helpful to me, I’m sure. (So long as I don’t end up getting stuck in that sitting and breathing, and end up never getting anything done – which is also a possibility with this brain.)
It’s simple. And it’s free. And all it takes is some awareness that I need to do it.
That awareness is the challenge, actually. Just realizing that my breathing is getting fast and I’m getting tense is often difficult, if not impossible. It’s like I get so absorbed in the problems that I can’t see past them. I can’t see myself. I can’t feel myself. I get lost in it all, and I lose my ability to cope really well.
But that doesn’t have to stay that way. On the contrary. I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes writing about how I can handle this, so it’s time to do it — time to put it into action. This is good and useful, so now it’s time to use it.