Why in the world should you sit and focus your attention on your breath going in and out of your nostrils? Or bring your attention back to a mantra when you notice your mind straying?
These exact practices cause us to focus our consciousness on something that in ordinary life we do not normally need us to focus consciousness on.
Once we learn how to walk or use a fork, we don’t think about it any more. We just pick up the fork, stab the food and, without giving it a second thought, bring the food to our mouth. We don’t give the fork another thought until it’s time to wash it or throw it in the dishwasher.
But it’s not the fork I’m alluding to, it’s the act of eating.
During our meditative practice, like focusing on the breath, we are actually creating skills that in some sense we don’t really need. In your day to day, It’s very hard to focus attention on our breath because it is something we do on automatic. By nature, we aren’t equipped to actually focus on it. It is unnecessary. But if we learn how to actually focus our attention on breathing in and out, we are in essence acquiring an ability to monitor our automatic behaviors.
In learning this skill, we are actually laying the foundation to monitor our mental processes.
That means we are in turn building new neural connections for monitoring what occurs at any given time without consciousness. We are forming a new skill to stay conscious of habitual patterns of automatic behavior that we once thought didn’t matter either.
Oh, but they do matter.
Our emotions are automatic, just like our breathing. They happen without the involvement of consciousness at all. Think about the time you were cut off on the freeway and you automatically slammed on the brakes or swerved to avoid being hit. There wasn’t any conscious effort on your part to do that. It was simply an automatic reflexive response.
Stop to think about your relationships. Is there someone in your circle of connections that you seem to react to emotionally in an automatic way? If they say something to you in a certain way, you recoil or want to have some sort of comeback? Do your interactions with this person always leave you feeling a certain way every time you connect?
In your meditation practice, you are continuously creating new connections and new skills. These are the skills of character, the skills that allow you to interact in an emotionally non-reactive manner. These are not the skills necessary to walk or breathe or eat. These are in fact the skills that actually allow you to monitor the automatic nature of your emotions more readily.
The very skills we develop in meditation will benefit our emotional interactions as well.
Meditation helps to enlarge that gap between your impulses and actions.