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There is no doubt: we are living in some crazy ass times.
I think we’re all just trying to navigate our own simple lives, but the extremism and divisiveness that permeates the zeitgeist of 2020 is exhausting. We may even be feeling a little depressed.
I love this quote about depression by author and spiritual teacher, Jeff Foster:
“The word ‘depressed’ is spoken phonetically as ‘deep rest.’ We can view depression not as a mental illness but on a deeper level, as a profound (and very misunderstood) state of deep rest, entered into when we are completely exhausted by the weight of our own identity.”
I think it’s important to acknowledge that we may be feeling “weighty” and thrown off our game. The things that we’ve claimed as our identity feel threatened. Our freedoms, our democracy, our sense of decency—it all feels pretty shaky right now.
If you’re feeling depressed or enraged, I want to recommend breath awareness as a balancing practice.
Breathing fully is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, especially now that we have a virus that threatens to take our breath away.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
We tend to breathe in a shallow manner, especially when we are feeling stressed. The breath stays, frightened, clinging to the top of our chest. Try to make a practice of drawing the breath all the way into the bottom, the sides, and the backs of your lungs. Fill your grateful lungs completely with your breath.
Notice that there is a pause at the end of the exhale, right before the breath turns to make the inhale. When we bring full attention to that pause, it can feel blissfully infinite. It can be a place of deep rest. Make it a practice to rest in that pause—that can be a full meditation in itself.
Find your Center
There is so much confusing information coming at us right now. Conspiracies are rampant. Propaganda is king. It’s important to remember who we are, at the core of our being.
What is it that centers you? What are your values? Your passions? Remember those things and bring yourself back to that center, again and again.
Release your Doubt
If I let my crazy mind go wild, I can find myself steeped in doubt. This makes it all the more important for me to live in the present moment. If I’m longing for or worried about the past, I’m anchored to it. If I’m anxious about the future, I’m robbing myself of the joy I might find in this moment.
The practice of breath awareness can bring me back to the present and help me release my doubt.
Open your Heart
How does one keep an open heart when there is so much hatred and violence in the world? I’ve been a peace activist for 50 years, engaging in practices that open the heart to all sentient beings. But I have to admit that this peaceful, loving woman has felt pretty f*cking enraged by the denial of systemic racism, by the threat to women’s rights, by the denigration of the LGBTQ community. I’m feeling pretty angry at the climate deniers, those who turn a blind eye to immigrant families, and to our own American families who are suffering through this pandemic.
How can we be fierce advocates for the things that are important, and still have an open heart? I can’t answer that for you, but the practice of resting in the pause of the breath might offer some insight.
Free your Spirit
Our spirit is the seat of our emotions and character. It is our soul. What has happened to the spirit, to the very soul of our nation? What’s happening to our cities, our communities? What about our neighbors? When we ponder these heavy questions, our own spirit feels the weight. We may feel the restraint like a caged bird.
How can we free our spirit in this environment? That, in itself, is a big question. There are many prescribed practices—some that take years to master. But an uncomplicated, almost effortless way to feel some freedom of spirit is to simply focus on the breath.
Breathe in, fully. Breathe out, fully. Pause. Repeat.
Please take a minute (four minutes and three seconds to be exact) to listen to this track from my 2016 album, “Wakefulness.” It’s a great backdrop for establishing a breath practice: