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April 8, 2020

Inhale, Exhale. Apply Consciousness. Rinse and Repeat. During Corona and Always. 

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Breathe in, breathe out.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Breathe in, breathe out.

For some on our planet breathing is becoming impossible to do. For others they breathe, but only aided by a machine. For many of us we can still breathe on our own, but we’re not breathing consciously.

This virus brings things. One of which is an invitation to remember and return to the sacredness of the breath. Breathing is both autonomic—it happens whether we think about it or not—and voluntary, meaning we can change how we breathe. This makes breathing an apt metaphor for practice of all sorts; we practice to shine a light on unconscious patterns and habits in order to unlock the power of consciousness. It is in this spirit that I offer the following six practices. See what speaks to you most. Start with one or two, then come back to add more on as you’re ready.

Conscious Breathing

  • Write “Breathe Consciously Now” on post-its and hang them around your home. Just put up a few; don’t fill your house with them or they’ll become meaningless. If you have kids (and even if you don’t) consider turning this into an art project. Make the reminders fun, playful and creative. When you see a note make an agreement with yourself that you’ll pause and take one conscious breath. Take a deep breath through the nose while expanding the belly, and then a longer, slower exhale through the mouth as if you’re blowing air through a straw. One breath is perfect, and if you want to do two or ten go for it.
  • VOO. (Yes, voo).
    Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing therapy, suggests voo-ing: a deep hum that stimulates the rest, digest and ease functions of the nervous system. Watch this video to learn how to voo.
  • Download the Wim Hof breathing app, and do breathing basics once a day for a week. Debbie and I are in our fourth week of doing this daily and we’re finding it very powerful.

Practice the Basics

When I asked someone on our team the other day how they were doing, they shared they were doing great, and that this time is what they had been practicing for for years.

At the heart of conscious leadership practice is differentiating content from context. The content of your life will change constantly. In some moments the content will appear to be small and insignificant, at others large and meaningful. But content is always just that - content.

Our practice is to bring our attention to our context by asking, “Where am I?” Am I above the line or below the line? Pause and check. Take a conscious breath.

If you’re below the line, in threat, fear, reactivity, outsourcing control, approval, or security ask yourself, “Can I accept myself for being scared?” We’re humans and humans in times like these get scared. What humans don’t naturally do is follow fear with love. Whatever else love is, it is acceptance of what is. This is a potent time to deepen our practice of acceptance. Use this meditation to support your practice.

Connect with Others

We’re all learning new ways to connect with people. I want to suggest a particular kind of connection: loving-kindness.

When you feel prompted and are thinking about another person pause, take a conscious breath, put your hands on your heart, and say to yourself:

“May I be well. May you be well.”
“May I be safe and free from harm. May you be safe and free from harm.”
“May I be filled with peace. May you be filled with peace.”

Intend this practice from your heart; this is an emotional practice, not an intellectual one. Always send the blessing first to yourself before sending to others.

This is a great way to turn social media into a spiritual practice. As you browse your feed, pause for 10 seconds and do this practice. Begin with people you naturally like, love and are drawn to. Then add people who are neutral in your mind and heart. And finally, when you’re ready (and you might not be anytime soon) do it for people that you resist, reject or trigger yourself around. You can do this while taking a walk and just allowing people to randomly come to your consciousness, but instead or perseverating in worry, judgment, longing, envy or resentment, shift to loving-kindness practice.

Be a Conscious Consumer of Information

I want to address one way we go unconscious in the face of the flood of information. Most of us have increased the amount of time we’re spending “taking in.” We’re literally flooding our nervous systems with information. In order to do this we actually have to go numb, to disconnect and in some ways actually dissociate; we leave our bodies while our eyes, ears and minds are being flooded. There are serious physical, psychological, and emotional consequences to living this way. On the flip side, there’s an opportunity to turn reading the news into a consciousness practice. We created a handout to support you to become a conscious consumer of the news:

Download "Be a Conscious Consumer of News" Handout

Face your Humanity and Mortality

Being human means that we are vulnerable. As humans we were born and we will die. These bodies get sick, they fail, they die. Covid19 is inviting us to face death, our death. When we do we are reminded of two realities we try desperately to avoid: 1. It is certain that we will die, 2. It is uncertain when and how. We are being invited individually and collectively to sit quietly, alone, in stillness and be with our humanity. One of the reasons sheltering in place is stressful for some of us is because many of our distractions from sitting, being still and being alone, have been taken away. A friend reminded me of a quote from scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

This time in our world is an opportunity to do what we’re simultaneously most afraid of and in need of doing. It is an invitation to to face, feel, and deal with being human. The practice here is a death meditation. Buddhists and others have been doing them for millennia). You can find some on Insight Timer. I like these:

Celebrating Life by Contemplating Death with Stephan Pende Wormland
Practicing Dying Peacefully from Old Age with Ajahn Achalo

Invite Beauty

In addition to all the stressful words that are coming our way, I find that there are beautiful ones as well. Someone sent me this the other day. When I read it I breathed deeply, connected to my heart, felt gratitude, had tears in my eyes and felt connected to others. I leave you with Lynn Ungar’s words:


What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Lynn Ungar, March 11 2020

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