There are things you want – that’s the nature of being alive – the wanting drive is what fuels you to get out of bed of a morning or whenever you get out of bed, assuming you do – it’s natural and healthy. The next stage after wanting is formulating a strategy for getting what you want. The next stage is fixating on realising that strategy. And generally the next stage is beating yourself for not achieving your goal fast or fully enough.
At this point in the process, once you’ve punished yourself as much as you can take, you either foolishly invest your energy in fixating more or wisely easing off a bit and remembering that achieving goals is merely a game you play to stop yourself going stir-crazy with boredom while you’re hanging around waiting to die – something to focus on to give your life some shape and sense of purpose, without which you’d merely drift and become aimless, which suits a few people but not most.
So there’s a balance to be struck here – a willingness and ability to hold the two apparently contradictory elements of wanting something and simply enjoying being here regardless of whether you get it or not – a willingness and ability to accommodate the paradox comfortably within – honouring the drive, while also honouring your entitlement to enjoy being alive in this present moment without yet having what you want or possibly ever having what you want.
Having what you want in itself does not bring you the happiness and fulfilment you imagine it will. Yes, there will be a phase of satisfaction for attaining a goal and the momentary pleasure of enjoying having it but because your life consists of a multitude of moving parts, it’s inevitable that as soon as you’ve got what you want, some other aspect of your life will be thrown out of kilter or show itself lacking, thus triggering dissatisfaction and you’ll immediately be wanting to remedy that, which is just as well, otherwise how would you be able to express the innate drive to achieve things?
In other words, stop fantasising and basing your model of reality on achieving a state of utopian perfection in your life – it just won’t happen (if it did you’d be bored shitless) and you’ll be wasting your life in delusion. Instead, honour and service the drive to get what you want as an effective boredom-prevention, purpose-providing device and simultaneously relax into where you are right now (including the wanting), so you can enjoy being alive – a mysterious phenomenon you must appreciate for all it’s worth in each and every moment because you can never assume it will continue indefinitely. I’m not talking abstractly – I mean right now.
And the simple key to achieving this tenuous internal balance lies in something so basic you normally tend to overlook it entirely, yet something so crucial that were you to forget to do it altogether, you’d be dead within minutes: breathing.
But breathing does not only serve to keep you alive.
By consciously taking command of your breathing, by desisting from unconsciously holding or constricting the breath, by slowing down the tempo, by regulating the duration of the in-breath and the out-breath, by inducing the breath to be silent, soft and smooth and by letting the belly swell on inhalation, then flatten on exhalation, you instantaneously regulate the quality, tone and mood of your thoughts, no matter how urgent, insistent, uncomfortable, jarring or distressed. But you can’t just do it for two minutes and expect that to change your life. That will only change your life for two minutes. If you wish to maintain your inner equilibrium indefinitely you also have to breathe as above indefinitely.
This requires patience, persistence and mindfulness, as in remembering to do it. Learning how to breathe like this consistently can take years but unless you do, your inner state, ever besieged by turmoil, as inner states generally are, will always remain in victim mode in relation to that turmoil.
If you wish to take and maintain command of your inner state, take and maintain command of your breath.
All the meditation, all the tai chi, the chi gung, the yoga or any other method for attaining self-mastery are just the icing on the cake – the crucial thing is to take command of the breath.
No matter how extreme or painful life gets at times, if you can remain in command of the breath, you’ll come through it.
It’s mostly the out-breath you have to watch for, for it’s the out-breath you tend to unconsciously inhibit when you’re afraid, tense or holding your mind rigid in relation to a particular thought. The in-breath generally takes care of itself like sponge refilling after it’s been squeezed.
So pay attention to breathing out fully each time. This will encourage you to stop holding onto a thought. Conversely holding or constricting the out-breath will merely cause the thought to coagulate and remain stuck in your head. This applies equally to a happy thought and a miserable one. Coagulated happy thoughts lose their inherent joy-provoking aspect, so you don’t want to hold onto them – let them pass so new, even better happy thoughts can come to fill the space. Coagulated miserable thoughts are just horrible so there’s no need to hold onto them, unless it makes you happy to feel miserable. Breathe out and let both the happy and miserable thoughts go.
Keep the breath moving freely and your thoughts will move freely too.
And that, dear reader, is my message to you.
May you have a day and night of enjoying each and every moment of being alive, regardless of whether you’re getting what you want or not, it’s all you can do to restrain yourself running, squealing with delight, to the highest natural or human-made point in your region and shouting, ‘I love my life’, for all the world to hear.
With love, Doc