Want to Hear My New Mantra? Don’t Hold Your Breath
I was at a party recently, and I caught myself anxiously waiting for a special someone to arrive. Every time I’d hear the door open and close, my attention would immediately be dedicated to seeing who just walked in. More than being continually distracted throughout the night in hopeful anticipation, I was perpetually disappointed as my special someone never arrived.
I wanted to stop binding myself to my expectations and leading myself to a perpetual state of disappointment. I kept thinking, “is that her?” Eventually I resolved to stop expecting. I told myself, “Don’t hold your breath.”
I wasn’t trying to devise a mantra to help me be mindful, stay in the moment and let things come as they may, but that’s exactly what I did. All of the sudden I viewed the age-old saying in a brand new light.
Don’t hold your breath. Breathe. Be in the moment. As a yoga teacher once pointed out during the end of a class while I was laying in savasana, “you can’t breathe in the past, and you can’t breathe in the future.” Our breath is our most useful guide for being mindful and grounded in the present moment. As long as we’re mindful of our breath, we’re mindful of the present moment.
I was chatting with a friend last night who was telling me how much she enjoys going to see live music when she’s never heard the band’s recorded music before. She loves going into the experience without any preconceived notions or expectations about what she’s supposed to experience.
Expectations form a trap out of which it can be hard to escape. Think back to the last movie you saw in the theater. Was the extent to which you liked or disliked the movie affected at all by the extent to which you expected to like or dislike it?
That same friend shared with me she’s in a new relationship about which she’s really excited. She’s been in and out of difficult relationships in the past, so it’s starting to scare her how strongly she’s already feeling about this new one. I asked her what scares her, and she told me she’s catching herself making plans for the future that involve her new boyfriend. She sees that she’s forming expectations and she’s worried those expectations might betray her.
I shared with her my new mantra: don’t hold your breath. I told her every time she catches herself thinking about the future and feeling the anxiety that goes along with forming expectations, just take a deep breath and ground herself in the present. Whatever feelings she’s having that cause her to believe she might have a future with her boyfriend, enjoy them here and now.
This moment is all we have. The future is in the future, the past is in the past. It’s amazing how much time we spend ruminating on what may happen or may have already transpired. Lao Tzu famously said, “If you are depressed you’re living in the past. If you are anxious you’re living in the future. If you are at peace you’re living in the present.”
If you want to find peace, don’t hold your breath.