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All of Mindfulness in One Breath

Mindfulness may be a marathon, but many benefits can be observed in one breath.

Mindfulness is a marathon, not a sprint. The practice aims to change our daily lives – not accomplish an instant miracle. The idea is that by making mindfulness a habit, we build useful traits through repetition. The more we sit in meditation, the more we experience the benefits, many of which start to unfold with our first mindful breath:

  • Focused attention: Most of our lives are filled with distraction. Without effort, we’re here, but not here, caught up in thoughts of past, future, rumination, doubt, and far more. As we meditate, we instead focus on what’s actually going on during this breath.
  • Responsiveness: When not giving life our full attention, reactive habits drive how we live. Whatever occurs during that breath – boredom, agitation, anxiety, joy, or physical discomfort – we practice letting it be instead. Perhaps we eat when we’re stressed. Maybe we ruminate or grab our phone in the face of some perceived discomfort. We pay a moments’ attention while aiming to stay settled and patient with whatever is in front of us – before choosing what to do (or not do) next.
  • Awareness: Guiding our attention while breathing allows us to observe the way our minds normally work. There are countless things we do and think out of habit, preconceived notions and assumptions about ourselves or the world. We start to address these mental ruts by first recognizing the. Whether we’re typically up in fear, craving, self-criticism, or anything else we notice, those patterns start to become apparent while observing where our mind wandered around one single breath.
  • Skillful action: The more we practice mindfulness, the more room we create to make skillful decisions. The goal isn’t passive acceptance, but rather, becoming more selective in how we manage our lives. In another moment, we might speak up or act or work on a skill – or refrain from acting at all. Right now, we actively choose to pay attention for a breath of time.
  • Compassion: Mindfulness teachers often tell you that everyone has a hard time keeping the mind still. Your job is simply to notice when your mind wanders and come back to the next breath without self-judgment. We give ourselves a break. It’s easy to get caught up in self-criticism (I’m miserable at this, I can’t ever do it, I wasted ten minutes daydreaming). We develop a sense of compassion for others by first cutting ourselves some slack, working towards self-improvement without excessive harshness and judgment. We notice each breath (or when we get distracted the next one or the one after that) with resolve and kindness.

With each breath we take, we can build all of these many traits. Attention and awareness. Staying settled when uncomfortable. Proactively managing our habits and assumptions. And compassion. All growing, one breath at time.