Sometimes, when I’m irritable and don’t know why, I stop and take five slow, deep breaths.
I don’t even know if I was capable of performing this task before I began meditating a few years ago. I likely would have stopped around breath number three — “OKAY I GET IT ENOUGH!”
But there’s a vast difference between “getting” something and giving over to it. There are facts and then there’s the appreciation of said facts.
As thinking, feeling humans, we absorb and experience information in primarily in two ways — what the information means and how it relates to us.
For instance, I can know that taking several slow, deep breaths is scientifically (and experientially) proven as a sort of biological reset. It helps me to take the focus off my irritability, which is often cerebral and based somewhere among rumination on the past or future, and divert it towards the basics.
I need to breathe. Breathing is the most consistently natural thing in the world. I am here right now, and all I actually have to do in this moment is breathe.
If and when I respond to a suggestion or impulse to slow down and breathe by (breathlessly) exclaiming “I GET IT!” — I’m interrupting this instinct towards what is natural and essential in favor of what is stubbornly egoistic.
In leveraging the excuse that “YES, I UNDERSTAND” the effects of any one practice, I’m essentially purporting to be able to utilize its full effect without having to undertake the practice in full.
This is impossible and foolhardy.
It’s an excuse to continue to exist in irritability, or anger, or fear. It’s a forgivable, understandable excuse (fear slings some serious gravity) but it’s still an excuse. It’s a tradeoff, and a poor one.
Knowledge is not necessarily experience. This is just a fact — most things in life cannot be fully known until we’re out in the real world receiving them in a sensory, natural way.
When we work with less than this full breadth of information, we’re in essence stumbling around attempting to lend substance and depth to a hollow facsimile with nothing but wind and light to help us.
Look, I’m not as much of a purist as I used to be. To be clear, I’m not advocating that only things as natural as breathing are worth experiencing. I’m more concerned, for myself, with fully approaching whatever task I’m in the process of approaching, with as many of my faculties devoted to it as I can muster, for as long as it takes.
This especially holds true — I’d argue it’s most crucial — when I’m in a place where I feel completely stuck, either on the way towards or fully arrived at powerlessness. This is when my natural tendency to say “I KNOW” kicks in, just in time to stand in the way of, for instance, those five deep breaths.
It doesn’t matter what I know. What is true, when I get that feeling — is that sometimes I need to stop and reset. When I follow this instinct, it works. That I’m aware that it works, and can recall in some vague way such results, does not matter to the mysterious biology of my brain, or the evasive mechanisms of my spirit.
Perhaps some aspects of life can move forward by employing shortcuts. But not daily existence. It can be easy to forget that, though, sometimes, in the here and now.
Stopping, in moments when I just want it all to stop, is exactly the right reaction. Thinking about stopping, recalling the benefits of the practice without actually employing it — it is not the same thing.
Such an apparently tiny courageous act as admitting this, that “I DON’T GET IT!”, can hold the power to salvage a whole day.
My name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.