JUST THREE BREATHS
Sometimes when we're teaching one of our 8-week mindfulness courses, usually round about week 5, a slight sense of bewilderment settles on some members of the group. "Is that it?" is the implicit question, "Is that all there is to it?" The problem is, people come to learn mindfulness with the expectation that they are going to be introduced to some secret, to the key that will set them free from the stress that so inhibits their lives. But what they get is, "listen to your body and follow your breath". It seems so ridiculously simple that there has to be more to it than that. But actually there isn't. Sometimes the simplest things are the ones that make the biggest difference. This is especially true of the practice we call the mindful pause or "just three breaths".
You will find that there are moments throughout your day when you "wake up" for a moment; in other words, when you become aware of what's happening around and within you. These moments don't tend to last for long and you soon fall back into a sort of waking sleep again, lost in thought or killing time. But, with practice, you can extend these moments of wakefulness. All you need to do is to remember to pause and take three conscious breaths. This is how is it works:
Whenever you find that you have "woken up" - that is to say, you have a moment of awareness - make a deliberate decision to stay with the experience for the duration of at least three breaths. Let's say you feel frustration and, in the midst of it, you realise, "I'm feeling frustration". That's the moment of awareness. Let yourself fully experience the quality of the emotion, the physical reality of it in your body and stay with it for the duration of three breaths. Feel the breath moving in your body but also notice your environment, the flow of sensations and the space around you. Try to bring a broad awareness to the body without focusing on one thing in particular. Just rest in the experience of this moment as fully as you can. This has a lot in common with the practice described last month, "Right Now it's Like This", and it brings about the same expansive sense of inhabiting the present moment.
Moments of waking up happen all the time and they don't necessarily involve difficult emotions, they can just as well be moments of pleasure or happiness. However, the tendency to fall back into a trance is a strong one and this one simple practice can counteract that tendency if you remember to take three conscious breaths and rest in the present moment. After a while you may notice that these brief moment of waking up are becoming longer; a few seconds of awareness becomes a minute or even a few minutes. Imagine what a difference that would make to your appreciation of your life.
A particularly helpful use of the practice is to stop compulsive or addictive behaviour. I'm not just talking about the more obvious forms of addiction - drugs, alcohol, gambling and so on - but also the more subtle things you do, checking your news feed, reaching for that chocolate biscuit, switching the telly on, that kind of thing. When you notice the compulsion, as you will do from time to time, that's when you take three mindful breaths. You make some space, a gap, and that's where wiser decisions are made.
So try the practice as often as you can. In fact do it every time you have one of those moments of waking up. See what happens, and if you want to share your experiences with us, please do. We would love to hear from you.