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Mindful Music: Breathe (2AM) by Anna Nalick
Breathe (2 AM) by Anna Nalick
I’ve been reading a great deal about mindfulness lately, both for work and for my own personal growth and development. Mindfulness is a quality or stance of openness to things as they are coupled with non-judgment and curiosity. It also reflects paying attention and staying present in your life instead of tuning out or distracting yourself. You can bring this way of being to any aspect of your life; eating, relationships, and self-acceptance are some common ones that I've read about. As I was driving to work the other day I heard the song “Breathe” by Anna Nalick and it struck me that this song represents mindfulness in action. The lyrics to the chorus are below:
But you can't jump the track, we're like cars on a cable,
And life's like an hourglass, glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button now
Sing it if you understand.
and breathe, just breathe
woah breathe, just breathe,
Oh breathe, just breathe,
Oh breathe, just breathe.
There are two big ideas in this song that reflect mindfulness. The first is radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is basically a mental position that doesn’t fight reality. It accepts that what is, is and what has happened, has happened. You can’t change the past. As the song says, no one can find the rewind button. It doesn’t sound that radical, does it? Just basic common sense. Most people would agree that you can’t change the past if you asked them. But often our actions speak differently. We spend a lot of time wishing the past were different, or resenting events or people from our past, or blaming ourselves for past mistakes. We say we "should" have done this or that. We might even try to make up for the past or punish ourselves in various ways. We waste a lot of energy this way. For me, when I’m doing this, there’s a very physical feeling of tension in the back of my head and neck and a tightness in my jaw. It’s almost like I’m pushing at something impossibly heavy with my brain. Which, in a sense, I am.
Radical acceptance doesn’t mean saying that what happened is okay or that you agree with it. It doesn't mean pretending that you didn't make mistakes. In fact, part of true acceptance is acknowledging the reality of how bad something may have been (or may be) even if it is your own actions. Radical acceptance just means that from a place deep inside yourself you let go of trying to change what has already gone by or what is not within your power to change. Many people may also be familiar with another saying that reflects this stance: the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Neibhur. Radical acceptance leads to serenity which can actually empower change. When you accept reality as it is you experience less suffering and become more able to change what can be changed in your life.
Sesame Street - Breathe
The other mindful aspect of the song is her advice to “breathe, just breathe.” Most of us have heard the advice to “take a deep breath” when we’re feeling upset. There was even a very cute segment on Sesame Street done by Colbie Caillat and Common in which they sing about taking deep belly breaths when feeling angry or sad. The reason for this common advice is that deep breathing is one of the most helpful, simple ways to calm yourself when you feel tense or upset. It triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest/relax/restore component of our involuntary nervous system) to become more active. So deep breathing directly alters your nervous system to help you relax and calm yourself.
Breathing is also a major component of mindfulness; every book I have read that touches on mindfulness describes a mindful breathing exercise as a way to cultivate mindfulness. It is a very simple exercise in which you sit (or lie down) quietly and focus your attention on your breath. Breathe naturally and comfortably. You don’t need to regulate your breathing in any particular way, although most people find that while doing this their breathing does slow and deepen. You can focus on the feeling of your breath in your nostrils, or your chest or your abdomen, wherever you notice it most strongly. When you find your attention has wandered away from your breath, which it will certainly do, then gently notice that and refocus on your breath. This practice of wandering attention and refocusing attention is part of the exercise, so don’t be frustrated by it. If focus on the breath is very difficult for you you can also focus on an image, like a candle or a running stream, or on a sound. Most books recommend starting this type of focusing exercise for just 5 minutes at a time and then building up as you become more comfortable with the exercise.
Breathing in this way helps you build your capacity to monitor and modify your attention. It can also restore you to a place of calm and groundedness, which can enable the practice of radical acceptance. The two go hand in hand, as Anna Nalick describes in her song lyrics. By cultivating this quality of mindfulness, of acceptance of things as they are from a place of calm, you can be present both for others in need and for yourself.