Friday, August 9, 2013

Gratitude Is the Way, but Breath Is the Path

There's so much I want to say in this space now that it's hard to know where to start. I promise it won't be dull--you'll just have to deal with some potentially weird non sequiturs.

First, as per my last post, I do believe gratitude is the secret to living in bliss. Not that it's always easy. Gratitude is the practice, the yoga, if you will, that leads you to your path, to *the* path that is yours and yours alone. There are many, many days that still arise in my life where feeling grateful is a struggle. But I'm so certain that it's the way, that it's the source of good and vital things in my life, that I come back to the practice. There are days when practicing gratitude feels so hard I can't do it with real authenticity. That's OK. That's normal. I want to remind you that there are days where our humanness, our feelings, overwhelm us and we just have to feel what we're feeling so we can get through it and eventually resettle into our higher, more luminous selves. On these days, I take deep breaths and I count.

Yesterday I found myself trying to get to a meet up with other mamas and their kids, and we were running late. The baby slept longer than usual. My son was distracted by his deep thinking on what kind of train he was going to be that day. Then we got lost. The baby was getting fussier and fussier. Finally, as we arrive at the splashpad, I see that it is dry. A mama from our group sidles up to the car: "It just broke.We're heading to Ricky Guerrero." New plan, new address in my phone's GPS. Screaming baby, impatient 3.5 year old. Traffic.

I was in a primitive, stressed part of my brain. Thinking of gratitudes in that moment was in no way going to make me feel bliss. It would be like my brain trying to sell my body on something it didn't need. "Gratitudes for sale---pathway to bliss!" it would sing out. And my body, stressed, heart pounding, muscles tight, would say, "What a moron! Can't my brain see that what I really need is a strong drink?"

(Not that I advocate drinking for stress relief, though sometimes, you know, it's what ya got.) The point is, like people use alcohol to bring their bodies through the stress, what I needed was a physical aid, a way through the fight-or-flight response. My intellectual brain was useless to me. And, thus, so was a gratitude.

Which leads me to breath. I told my son, "I'm wanting to feel calm and spacious (my intention for the day, a topic for another day's post), so I'm gonna take some deep breaths and then count." (He loves to count, so that helps him through stress.)

And that's what we did. In traffic, baby screaming to get out of her restraining (and therefore nefarious) carseat, we took big, deep, settling breaths. And we counted. (Up to 70.)

And that's how, in a stress-filled moment, rife with the potential to explode and go wrong with yelling, inattention, or hurtful words, we rerouted by acknowledging what we were feeling and then
relied, like a cripple on a cane, on our breath to carry us through some stress and big feelings.

That's how, by the time we got to the park, we were human again, escorted by breath past our reptilian response.

And there, in the dappled sun, by the rushing sound of water, in the good company of friends, we could relax, and I could look around and feel, with authenticity, how blessed and lucky I was to be there. How grateful I was. How happy.

If gratitudes are like the signs that show you the way, breath is like the earth upon which you walk your path. 

So, don't feel bad on those days you feel shitty and gratitudes seem like a cruel joke. What I'm saying is that all you really need to do to stay on the path is breathe.



Anonymous said...

"My intellectual brain was useless to me. And, thus, so was a gratitude." This is an excellent point that is too often glossed over in discussions on positive living. Just because you strive to be enlightened or blissful doesn't mean you shed the great, churning machine of instinct and animal response. You still have to deal with hormones that trigger fear, stress, or anger. It is part of being a biological entity, and therefore a very real challenge to sustained calm spaciousness (to paraphrase your stated intention a bit). Following your breath helps, and as your very colorful anecdote shows, you don't have to be at the Zen Meditation Center or in some perfect place to practice following your breath. It's deceptively simple to say, but deceptively difficult to do in those moments of extreme emotion. Like living in gratitude, a focus on breath and intentional calming takes practice.

Do you have any guidance on how to make that practice easier when you are in an active situation where you can't fully disengage to count/breath, say for instance, a nasty meeting at work?


Tiffany Hamburger said...

Hi! Thanks for your great comment! You are absolutely right--breath is as much a practice as gratitude, but fortunately, it does not require but the tiniest bit of intellect--only the thought that you need to follow the breath, and then the breathing takes care of much of the rest of the situation. Still, it is a practice, for sure.

My first thought would be to continue, as much as is practicable, to practice the skill of breathing, especially when the stressors are small and fairly non-threatening. I really think I began this practice when I decided to stop getting annoyed in traffic by inattentive drivers. For some, that situation might really be too provocative. It might be when your dog barks at a squirrel when you're concentrating, and it breaks your silence and concentration and you find yourself annoyed. Find the small stuff, where your emotions are just getting jangled, and practice breath there.

In a place where you can't take big, audible breaths because the social strictures forbid it (like the aforementioned nasty meeting), I like to practice grounding. I make sure both my feet are on the floor, and I work to focus on feeling them on the earth. Then I visualize the earth pressing up on my feet, holding me. I am supported, held, grounded. I might go further, and imagine energy from my body rooting deeply, through my feet, into the floor, going down as deep as I can imagine. Once I am feeling really safe and grounded, and my body begins to calm, I notice the physical details around me: the texture of a table, the color of papers, the pattern in a carpet, or the way the light reflects off a frame on the wall.

This practice takes work, too, as does any practice, but it is something you can do silently, with no one else aware of what you're doing.

I hope that helps! :-)


aniko said...

The practice of grounding certainly sounds a lot more peaceful than any of my current practices! I am influenced by the moods of the people around me, and enclosed rooms full of angry or despairing people are treacherous to my calm and my gratitude. There are certain individuals I try not to sit near, because even when they are silent, I feel their negativity draining me. It sounds like grounding could be a shield against the full effects of the situation by taking my focus off of the churn of emotions. Thank you for the suggestion - I will git it a try!