My cat finds subtle rustlings in the baseboards fascinating—perhaps a mouse to play with? Most other noises leave him nonplussed. As an animal, he doesn’t have much choice about what captures his attention. As humans, however, we can choose our own objects of fascination. We can even choose to be fascinated by the most ordinary of things. The critical turn depends upon attention.
We are built to appreciate the novel aspects of experience. However, novelty seeking can become an end in itself. Without being aware of it, we may come to feel that our lives must perpetually include something new, something exciting. If this way of relating to life continues for prolonged periods, our short attention spans reduce the typical fifteen minutes of fame to fifteen seconds. We end up like mayflies, our attention constantly flitting from thing to thing, landing on nothing for more than a moment before quickly moving on.
As an alternative to the continual pursuit of superficial fascination, we can seek a more substantial and profound fascination right under our noses. All we need do is rest our attention on the simple rhythm of our breathing. The regular, cyclic rhythm of the breath as it moves in and out of our bodies can be downright fascinating if we just permit ourselves to attend to it. The miracle of life—perpetually invigorated, sustained, and renewed with each new breath—quietly reveals itself in this simple autonomic function.
The rhythm and texture of breathing varies like everything else. Though the gentle issue and return of the breath from the body seems an endlessly repetitive circle, where each inhalation and exhalation are identical, when we pay close attention, we begin to notice subtle variations in the flow of our own breath. By settling the mind on it, we find that breathing is actually interesting and engaging to watch. It is our idea of breathing that is mundane, pedestrian, and boring. The actual act of breathing, as it is happening right now, can be endlessly fascinating.
- Find your actual breath as it moves right now beneath your nose.
- Settle your mind on the sensation of the breath as it moves in and out.
- Pay attention to natural fluctuations in the pattern of the breath—its slowness or quickness, shallowness or depth.
- The simple act of breathing keeps your body and mind alive.
- Let awareness of the breath fill your attention. See if you can be aware of the breath even as it disperses within and throughout your body.
- Try to notice where breathing ends and the rest of the body begins. You can feel that the entire body participates in breathing as blood carries the oxygen obtained in the lungs.
- The body breathes and can be felt as a scintillating energy.
- Approach this exercise with a child-like sense of fascination and enjoy the wonder of being able to breathe!
If the simple act of breathing can be captivating, then sitting in traffic or listening to a tedious story can be fascinating. Every moment of life conceals wonders and miracles if we allow our attention to settle below the superficial. Mindfulness opens the door to enchantment. We open that door by giving ourselves permission to be here, in this moment. We needn’t rush headlong in relentless pursuit of the next bit of flash and sparkle to find our lives interesting. Letting go of Facebook, Twitter, and our smartphones to attend to the wonders of simply being, here and now, enriches our experience of life far more. Rather than turn on the television to stimulate and engage your thirst for engagement, sit for a while and engage the miracle that is your own life as it spools itself out along the ever unfurling and receding cycle of breaths. Fascinating!