New Year’s greetings to everyone, far and wide! May it be a year of peace, health and prosperity for all.
Since the beginning of a new year is usually filed with resolutions– which are really thinly disguised attempts to change habits — I’m going to begin the year with a series of posts on habits.
Habits determine the quality of our lives. And they are fundamental if you want to reduce your stress around taking tests.
Life is made up of habits. Think about it. As you are reading this you are breathing (whether you are aware of your breath or not). As your eyes take in these words do you know whether you are inhaling or exhaling? Likely not because breathing is such an automatic habit — so much in the fabric of every moment of life -that most of us lose our awareness, or consciousness of it. Yet, it is the single most important tool we have for calming down and staying in the present. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we could use it to our benefit beyond simply staying alive.
Although everyone is breathing, very few of us have any sustained awareness of our breath. Why is such an awareness important? Because along the way each of us has adapted and even changed the fundamental habit of breathing so that it corresponds to our own emotional/mental state. Take a person who, every time she hears the word “TEST,” freezes up. In that moment she is stopping her breath. What’s causing her anxiety? Surely not the four printed letters T-E-S-T. They are merely pixels on a screen, they are not “making” her anxiety. This person’s anxiety comes from her long-time habit of stopping her breath every time she reads or hears the word “TEST.” Her memories, associations and fears about tests have a stranglehold on the one tool that could really help her: her breath.
Try an experiment: as you read this sentence, exhale deeply. Keep going until all the air is out. Good. Now what happens? The inhale comes in automatically. That’s the fundamental habit we come in with it at birth (it’s what kicks off life) and it’s what leaves us at death. I remember sitting with my dear Aunt Rachel when she lay dying at the age of 105. Over the course of two weeks I watched and listened to her breath, becoming every more shallow, ever shorter, until finally…. it stopped.
Keep your breath going, and keep your attention on your breath. As you click away from this blog xhale, and then inhale on the next thing you do, whether at your computer or away. Sustain your awareness of your breath in any activity you are doing today and forward: whether it’s cooking, studying, taking a shower, or working out. When you realize you’ve lost awareness—we all do, most of the time—bring your attention back to your breath. Exhale. Inhale. Simple.
That’s your first task: just become more aware of your breath.. In a few days we’ll get into the next step of using this basic and most profound tool to our benefit.
OK. Get ready to click away from this blog. Ready? Exhale. See you in a few days