Do you ever “boil yourself”? Obsess over a conversation that’s behind you that didn’t go the way you wanted it to? Or worry endlessly about situations that might or might not come to pass in the future? When we look back at a set of circumstances around which we feel unsettled, sad or disappointed, it’s so tempting to try to rewrite history in our minds. If only I’d said this instead of that. If only this person had wanted X and not Y. If only I’d stayed home instead of going out. Thoughts create a chemical reaction in the body. There’s not a lot of difference in the way the nervous system responds to events we’re concocting in our minds, versus those challenging interactions or circumstances that are actually happening.
I think we get fixated when we’re feeling vulnerable or depleted in some way. When we’re tired, or overwhelmed, or feeling hurt. Those seem to be the times the mind latches onto something painful or unsettling, whether it’s real or imagined. So there we are folding the laundry, except we’re not. We’re in some imaginary conversation about something that hasn’t happened and might not ever happen. We’ve conjured our worst-case scenario, and we let our minds run wild. So we’re folding that t-shirt, but our shoulders are up around our ears and our breath is shallow and our brow is furrowed and maybe our jaw is clenching. If you work hard enough at it, you might even raise your blood pressure or get an adrenaline rush. Meanwhile, you’ve missed the chance to practice a little Zen and the Art of Folding Laundry. Maybe you missed hearing your kids laughing in the other room. Or you didn’t see how the sun was setting right outside your door.
Left unchecked, the mind tends to head into the past or the future, but it’s sad because there’s no potential left in the past. I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for examining and understanding in what ways your past might be affecting your present. I’m simply saying there’s not much point in using up too much of today looking backward and trying to do it differently. It already unfolded the way it did. When we race into the future, we often do that with anxiety. Playing out our worst fears, thinking about what we’ll say or do, making ourselves literally sick with worry. There is no predicting the future and most people spend way too much time upsetting themselves over things that never come to pass, anyway.
There’s a real power in being able to pick up the mind and bring it back to this moment. Back to this t-shirt or sunset or laughter in the other room. Your breath is a great tool for that. Your inhales and exhales happen in the now. You can use them to arrive in the moment and open to it. Life is full of pain sometimes. You don’t have to create it in your mind. It’s also full of joy. But you can miss it if you’re somewhere else. Sending you love, and the hope that you’ll experience a little zen and the art of breathing.