Rowing a Boat: An Invitation to Notice and Breathe

Mental noticing and noting of experiences in meditation labels what happens. It’s not always easy to sum up experiences in this way — sometimes annoyance, anger, fear, hope, soreness and surprise stumble in together like a band of drunk friends. But the use of language to name how sensations, thoughts and feelings are organizing and presenting themselves helps me acknowledge my reality and sit with it. Being in the present is helpful and healthy, and pointing out my experiences to myself helps me to become more familiar with them, and to continue to learn that none of them are inherently bad or wrong.

The practice of noting what goes on and then returning to my breath gives me a system, a rhythm to rely on. I can name what is present as it asks for attention and then breathe, note my experience again and then return to the breath, in and out, back and forth, to and fro — like rowing a boat. Sometimes the breath leads me further into my experiences on the level of sensation, and I sway receptively between noting, breathing, feeling. With these tools, I have a way to listen to myself and also to let go of the reins, even if only in small increments. I remember (then forget, then remember) that I am not responsible for constantly passing judgment over myself, and that a relationship, a conversation, between me and me is always in progress, in development — one I want to be made up of listening and love.

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