Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.


serenity bracelet I made as a reminder

So I’ve been exploring mindfulness as of late, both because of the therapist I work with and because of a professor I’ve had the pleasure to work with.  I always thought mindfulness and meditation were these complicated things that took ages to perfect and I just didn’t feel as if I had the patience to undertake such a difficult, involved task such as learning to calm my mind.  I have no idea where I got these ideas.  Perhaps it was simply my stubbornness making these lies up so I’d have an excuse not to try something new and different.

For lies they are.  Through reading the book Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh, I am learning that mindfulness is anything but complicated and I should throw the idea of “perfection” out the window.  Yup, that’s right: you don’t have to be perfect to benefit from mindfulness.  For those of us used to trying to be perfect in everything we do, this can be a difficult concept to grasp, but it is also very freeing and it’s like a huge sigh of relief: “Finally, I can just be.”

And being is all I have to, well, be.  I don’t have to sit in some pre-ordained pose.  I don’t have to listen to special music.  I don’t have to chant special words or read a special text.  I just have to be. No more.  No less.  Do you know how wonderful that alone feels?

The book is a collection of ways to practice mindfulness in your everyday life, hence the title.  One of the very first practices is called Conscious Breathing.  How often do you pay attention to your breath?  Sure, we notice our breath when we get panicky and start to hyperventilate, but what about right now?  What about when you’re walking in the grocery store?  What about when you’re playing with your cat?

Here’s the basic gist of conscious breathing: As you inhale, think “In.”  As you exhale, think “Out.”

Yup.  That’s it.  When I first read this, I laughed.  (I told you I’m a bit stubborn and this just seemed too simple and I thought, “Why bother wasting my time trying it.”)  Then I tried it.  Whenever my mind wandered, I gently reminded myself to go back to the “In/Out” thoughts.  No reprimands or scoldings, just a gentle redirection.  I paid attention to the rising and falling of my ribcage, the tightening of my bra strap on the inhale, the sensation of air moving through my nostrils.  And I discovered that after just a few minutes, I was focused and calm and relaxed.  And all I did was label my breaths.  Nothing fancy.  No special equipment.  I was sitting on my sofa in my regular clothes and I didn’t even bother turning off my music.

Since then, I have practiced Conscious Breathing as I’m walking somewhere, as I’m lying in my bed with thoughts going a zillion miles a minute before I’m trying to fall asleep, while I’m knitting, and while I’m having my morning cup of caffeinated coffee and my bedtime cup of decaffeinated coffee.  Yes, my mind wanders.  But guess what?  I’m human and it’s going to wander.  But as I said earlier, I don’t yell at myself or scold myself or feel bad when my mind wanders; I simple remind myself to go back to In and Out.

For those of you with anxiety or panic disorders or for those of you who worry a lot or for those of you who think about a million things at once and want to clear your mind, I challenge you to try this.  And I challenge you to be gentle with yourself and throw perfection out the window and allow yourself to wander.  And then allow yourself to return to your breath.  Gently.


April 4, 2011 - Posted by | coping, mindfulness, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. This post made me think of the book, Radical Acceptance, have you read it? I think you’d like it.

    Comment by Shelly | April 4, 2011 | Reply

    • I just took a look at in online, and I think it would be a perfect read for me right now. Thanks for the suggestion.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | April 4, 2011 | Reply

  2. When I was in radio, I made myself a poster for above the control board. It said “Remember:
    Breathe in
    Breathe out

    Have been reminding myself of that a lot lately. Sometimes even without the panic.

    Comment by marisa | April 4, 2011 | Reply

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I discussed mindfulness with my therapist today, actually. It’s something that I want to work on, especially during the upcoming month which is packed full of anxiety-provoking things, among them final papers and exams for graduate school.
    Like you, I feel (perhaps I won’t after I read this book you’ve mentioned!) that being mindful and meditating are things that a person much learn how to do. I have always felt like I don’t have the time or energy to devote to these things. However, this post has really opened my eyes to the little things that we can do every single day to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety and racing thoughts. Thank you, again, for this post 🙂 My name is Alli and I just recently started a recovery blog – Very nice to meet you!

    Comment by Alli | April 5, 2011 | Reply

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