Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Snapping Out


There is wisdom in snapping out of a negative narrative we continue to develop about something that happened, a hostile conversation that’s lost its purpose, mindless eating where consuming food has turned into a tick.

Taking a breath is often used as a technique to snap out of the world you created. I am now dependent on this technique more than ever having been away from a culture where certain rituals serves as exercises in mindfulness.

In Japan, we take the time out of a busy day to deliver freshly cooked rice and steaming hot tea to the family shrine, butsudan, a small area of the house for ancestor worship. No matter how hungry, we place our palms together and take a moment to thank for the food we are receiving, saying “itadakimasu“. During a meal, we are vigilant of other people’s glasses getting empty, so we can offer to fill them before they are empty. When we do pour that drink, we do so with both hands, to symbolize that this is the action we are focused on at this very moment, and nothing else. When the drink is about to be poured, we pick up our glasses with, you guessed it, both hands, to show you are receiving this gesture with all our hearts. There are countless other customs built into our daily lives to snap out of “me, my, and mine” to take a moment.

I didn’t realize how precious these moments were until I left that culture. I didn’t realize how helpful they were in helping me to stay calm when everyone else got upset, seeing the big picture when it would have been easy to get bogged down with the minutiae of things. I didn’t realize that these practices not only minimized the chances of trapping myself in non-productive or harmful thoughts or actions, but also granted me the ability to recognize them and snap out of them.

I call those micro mindfulness or micro meditation.

Anyone who has practiced meditation knows its value, but it can be difficult to set aside the time and space to regularly practice. A neuroscientist who consulted with Google on benefits of mindfulness claimed that a mere set of three breaths could make a difference. With the first breath, he instructed, that you are taking yourself away from the action, with the second breath, you are feeling the breath itself, and with the third breath, you decide how you want to react to the breath, and therefore, the situation.

While trying this system out, I customized it to my taste. It is also a technique of three.

  1. I think of three words, “I am breathing” and take a breath, to remind myself that whatever situation I am in (whether my ears are hearing a harsh tone of a colleague dismissing your ideas, or my brain started to process many ways my plan wasn’t going to work, etc.) I remember that my body is breathing, despite all the other things going on externally and internally.
  2. Then I say to myself “…AM breathing”, to emphasize the present tense, that breathing is what I am doing and concentrating on now, and nothing else.
  3. Then I drop the phrase to “…breathing”, to focus on the sensation of breathing rather than who is breathing. I observe the breath taking place like a scientist taking data: the chest cavity expanded, my back straightened, my stomach compressed. I visualize the mechanical processes happening and the sensations they create. I lose myself in it, and there, I’m snapped out.

When I “return” to whatever situation I had to snap out of, I am afforded a different perspective…not better or worse, perhaps just refreshed, which is all the gift we need sometimes to get through the day.

Photo: Back yard of the Coffee Gallery in North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii, where the air is sweet you can’t help but concentrate on your breathing.

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This entry was posted on October 5, 2016 by in Buddhism, Meditation, mindfulness and tagged , , , .
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