Permission to Begin, and Magic Breathing (or, A Bit More on Mindful Meditation)

posted a video the other day, of Dan Harris speaking about mindful meditation, and it got me thinking about a few of the things I've learned about meditation in my brief time practicing it.

You might want to reach through the screen, grab me by my collar, dangle me off a high-rise ledge and, putting on your very best Christian-Bale-Batman rasp, violently entreat me to answer you, to tell you what I know.

You Have Permission to Begin
(or, It's literally only five minutes and there's no learning curve)

Harris says he meditates about 30 minutes a day, but also that it’s okay to do it for just five.  That’s how meditation was explained to me, too—five minutes, don't even think about it, just sit down and go.

This was news to me.  I'd heard about mindfulness for years, before this, and it always seemed interesting and pragmatic and beneficial, but no one had ever explained to me it was something you could just do.  It seemed instead like an art or a way of life, like something you had first to make time to learn, and then struggle to incorporate into your routines.  It's not.  Mindful meditation isn't something you need to prepare for or even really think about, no more than you'd think about doing jumping jacks or stretching.  You just need the simplest of instructions (the last post has those, they'll take ~45 seconds to read) and then you can start. 

Once I understood this, I felt like I'd been granted permission to begin.  

Is It Really Only Five Minutes?  Yes.  But.

My dear two-to-ten readers, I know you are a clear-eyed and intelligent bunch, not prone to hucksterism or new-age razzle dazzle, and you may have read the above and asked yourselves, why, if the meditation takes only five minutes, would a megaphonic advocate of it like Dan Harris do it for a half-hour?  

And furthermore, why does it seem like most advocates do it for more than this miraculously low-cost minimum of five minutes?  What're these folks trying to pull?  What gives?  What's the skinny?  What do they know??  You might want to reach through the screen, grab me by my collar, dangle me off a high-rise ledge and, putting on your very best Christian-Bale-Batman rasp, violently entreat me to answer you, to tell you what I know.  

And if you did manage to do that, I would gently suggest you set me down.  I would then pry off your gloved finger, wipe your spittle from my chin, and hand you a lozenge.  Then, I would answer you.

* clears throat *

So yeah I was wondering the same thing, at first.  

You know how they say that 20 minutes of cardio is all you need to get in shape, but people who like to run usually do it for longer?  I think it's the same sort of thing.  

Five minutes of meditation, daily, is all you need to see some benefit (the specifics of which may be a topic for another day), but it appears to be that most people who start at five minutes simply volunteer to increase the duration, without any apparent prompting.  Most people I've read about or spoken to seem to have begun at five and nudged themselves up to 20-30 minutes.  Me, six weeks in, I'm up to ten minutes, and I think I'll keep it at that for a while.

But it seems to really be fine to start at, and stay at, five minutes.

There is No Magic Breathing
(or, I think it doesn't matter how you breathe)

Step  2 in the meditation instructions (again, see the last post) direct you to focus your attention on your breathing, and when I was first introduced to mindfulness, I was told I should take deep, yogic breaths, from the diaphragm, in through the nose and out through the mouth.  

But it seems to me now that the point isn’t so much how you breathe, but that you focus on—that you are mindful of—however you are breathing.

Mindfulness doesn't suggest there's something magical about breathing, it’s just that breathing seems to be the most practical thing for you to focus on when trying to tame all your wandering thoughts.  

In other words, in the absence of all other focal points, you can best distract yourself (from your todo lists, from your romantic screw-ups, from the competing recipes for Korean tofu stew you've saved to Evernote, and from all the other racing thoughts that might run off with your mind) by focusing on the physical sensation of your breaths coming in, and out.

Another Dan Harris Video

Because why not.  The last post's video was ~24 minutes long.  This one's just three:



If any of you are meditation gurus, or just have thoughts on what I said above or experiences to share, please feel free to comment below.  I'd love to hear about it.