I begin at “one.”
And instantly I think to myself, “I’m never going to make it to ten. This can’t work.” It’s the same story I’ve been telling myself for months now.
And then I find myself at “eighteen” and begin to think maybe I’ll be okay.
Before I know it, I’m at “twenty-six” and I know that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be and I’ll know exactly when I’ve gone as far as I’m supposed to go.
Today I reach thirty and I just know; it’s time go back down to zero. That’s just how it’s supposed to be today. Sometimes just twenty, sometimes up to fifty, but always well past ten.
Another morning. Another triumph.
I can’t remember how I started getting interested in mindfulness, but it was something I kept quiet for a little while. And then I found the opportunity to study with a coach at a local university, and I found myself prepaying for six sessions with her. In our time together, she taught me many things, but the one that stuck the most was this: twenty breaths.
Yes, I had to pay someone and visit her for six hours over three months to learn that if I took at least 20 mindful breaths in the morning, I became a different version of myself – calmer, more centered, less irritated, more rational.
Twenty breaths work like this – Close your eyes, take a slow, deep breath in, slowly let it out, and count in your head, “one.” Repeat until “ten” and then count back down to “zero.” That’s it. That’s all the magic. Up to ten down to zero, trying as much as possible to gently wave the thoughts out of your mind.
This is a feat for me. I have a pretty noisy brain. Gently waving away thoughts feels more like kicking bricks up a hill. And not all of that noise is so nice. Plenty of it includes the inner critics reminding me of all my faults, the inner antagonizers who remind me of the worst things that have happened in recent days, and of course the inner worry-warts who just want to bring up every possible danger and failure I might face in the next few days. Like I said, it’s pretty noisy.
We All Start at One
Each morning (well, some mornings … plenty of times I don’t get around to this), I begin by shutting my bedroom door, propping up a bunch of pillows to sit on, and finding neutral meditative sounds on YouTube to drown out the children screaming about having to put on their shoes. I take one or two big deep cleansing breaths. And then I begin. “One.”
And each time it feels like a fool’s errand. The number ten seems miles away and the number zero is in a different galaxy. Sure I’ve pulled this off before, but each of those times must have been an anomaly. I am not a meditator. I don’t know anything about this stuff. How could I ever believe that I could take twenty calm, deep breaths in a row?
When I think about how scary that first breath always seems, I can’t help but think that it’s a perfect metaphor for almost anything in life. We all start at one. One breath. One step. One class. One line. One note. Just one. And it’s always just that scary.
And the question isn’t if you’re any good at it or whether it will be a huge (or even a minor) success. The question is whether you’ll get to two. And then whether you’ll get to three. The magic starts somewhere around nine for me. But no matter what, we all start at one.