Ever found yourself imprisoned by indecision in a pivotal moment with your heart and mind playing tug of war over which direction to go? Perhaps, you’ve walked a path of decisive action, following your instincts with gusto only to now be wondering, ‘What if?’ Maybe you’ve adopted the role of spectator and can no longer shake the question, ‘Who is really living my life?’ If any of these scenarios apply, or if you are simply interested in a new approach to decision making – specifically momentous, life-altering decisions – you are in the right place
‘…if you are [simply] interested in a new approach to decision making – specifically momentous, life-altering decisions – you are in the right place.’
I am going to introduce my 3-Step method below, but first we are going to set the stage by traveling back in time to the birth of this blog and the OldSchoolMillennial’s origin story for some helpful context. Buckle up, this Delorean is taking off.
When I started this blog over three years ago I had no idea what I was doing, only a vague sense that I needed to write. I was traveling back from a weekend in D.C. where three of my favorite thought leaders had all taken turns speaking and fielding questions from a colorful collection of 500+ action-oriented event attendees. As the night carried on, I became intoxicated with the energy in the room. These folks were moving the world. I, on the other hand, was living life in my head, where I would meet big ideas with a steady stream of, ‘Yeah, but…,’ excuses – reserving action for the small and familiar.
‘I…was living life in my head, where I would meet big ideas with an assault of, ‘Yeah, but…,’ excuses – reserving action for the small and familiar.’
Somewhere around midnight, four hours into this electricity emersion, it hit me: for the better part of 36 years my mind had been avoiding the doldrums of life by escaping to clouds of interesting, but isolating abstractions, a self-made outsider, and now, finally, I had found my tribe. Their most striking characteristic was that each had traveled back from the clouds, pushing through the re-entry resistance, and landing their visions decisively in the real world. People of this caliber and in this number had not existed in my life prior to that moment, but I knew then with absolute certainty that I could never go back, not really, to the world of the, ‘Yeah, buts…’
However, I now had the question of how to get off the sidelines of my own life. I had no idea what to do, just that I felt as if I now needed a solve to this problem more than any other I had ever encountered.
But how does one answer a question that has never been asked before? Once answered, how does one know if the path chosen is the right one? For me, in what felt like the most pivotal moment of my life, where the entire universe seemed to be urging me to a new level of being, I was utterly overwhelmed by the onslaught of thoughts and emotions assailing my consciousness, I had no idea what to do.
‘…I was utterly overwhelmed by the onslaught of thoughts and emotions assailing my consciousness, I had no idea what to do.’
What happened next was akin to a bolt of lightning that struck me with similar 1/500,000 odds: I was going to start a blog.
I can’t take credit for the idea as it hit me more than I worked it out, and I had very little reason to believe it was plausible, much less possible, as I had never published anything of import, had no idea how to design/manage/market a website, and had absolutely no vision for what I would write about or why anybody would care. But, in that moment, all those concerns paled in comparison to my need to do something, and, alas, I had no better ideas. Hence, the OldSchoolMillennial was born into a storm of uncertainty; naked, shivering, and alone.
Yet, three and a half years later, I’m still here, pushing the idea forward, building the airplane on the fly so to speak, all with a growing level of certainty that I have indeed made the right investment of time, tears, and talent. It’s as if the decision-making process has played out over a long, drawn-out series of micro-decisions rolling up and supporting the over-arching, largely unknown, trajectory as it gradually crystallizes in my mind. The level of paralysis and indecision reducing as the story unfolds at the cost of daily outlays of faith and will to stay the course. I am sure if you have read this far, you can relate.
In the quiet moments, I have often wondered at the possibility of pulling the decision-making horizon from the distant and uncertain future into the present, as I long for a method to manifest a key of sorts that would open the cell of decision prison in real-time. The primary benefit being the liberation of precious energy from the effort of continually re-convincing myself I am on the right path for input into the actualization of the vision itself. I can’t help but imagine where I would be if all the competing thoughts and super-charged emotions fighting for my attention were actually aligned within me in one clear, purposeful direction.
‘I can’t help but imagine where I would be if all the competing thoughts and super-charged emotions fighting for my attention were actually aligned within me in one clear, purposeful direction.’
But enough wondering. Now that the stage is set, let’s dive in and find out. I promised three steps, here they are, we’ll go deep on each below:
Human life begins with the breath and can’t continue without it. From the moment we emerge from the womb, we are hard-wired to pull air into our lungs, extract the oxygen we need, impart it to the blood, and pump it to all our vital organs and systems, thereby animating our hearts, minds, and bodies. This ingenious design is automated to where it runs in the background so reliably that we expend next to none of our attention managing or maintaining this most essential, life-giving, and sustaining function.
In this sense, it is the breath that is unconsciously woven into the truth of who we are more integrally than any experience, idea, action, or feeling we might possess at a conscious level. After all, it is the breath alone that has been constant in our lives since the beginning and will be with us until the end, steadfast in its support for every bit of change and growth we may undergo along the way.
This is helpful because it is the truth that we are after – our personal truth. The single idea that is wholly who we are. This truth is the key out of decision prison. The key which lies inside and has been with us since the beginning, since our first breath, and there it yet remains.
I know we just covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but the gist of what I am asking you to accept is that the process of self-discovery is one of uncovering something you already possess moreso than one of discovering anything external. Just as the breath has been with you since the beginning, so has your truth, even if only at a mostly unconscious level. The task at hand is to consciously surface both.
From this vantage point, we can now follow the breath back inside to our deepest, oldest self, and let our decisions be guided by what we uncover there.
To answer the question of how to get started on this journey, I would point you to any one of many conscious breathing exercises, but the method I have personally had the most success with was designed by the Ice Man himself, Mr. Wim Hof. Of his many books, documentaries, and online videos, I liked this audiobook the best as a colorful introduction to man and method. But, if you are just looking for a concise overview of the breathing exercise itself, I have summarized the main points below with enough content to get you started.
And that is it, simply build thirty min of conscious breathing into your morning routine and you have mastered step one.
On to step two.
If you are anything like me, as you get started with your breathing routine, you will, in short order, notice the absolute absurdity of thoughts intruding on what would otherwise be a quiet and relaxing sit. The simple act of attempting to focus on your breath and associated bodily sensations may become exhausting, frustrating, even anxiety-provoking – stay with it, your conscious mind just isn’t used to being quiet enough to listen, not yet anyway. Think of it like any exercise, you will get better with effort and repetition, the mental muscle of intentional bodily focus getting stronger over time.
‘Think of it like any exercise, you will get better with effort and repetition, the mental muscle of intentional bodily focus getting stronger over time.’
As we get stronger, we learn to just listen to the breath, we are simultaneously learning to quiet the conscious mind, opening up a space to receive a deeper form of knowing from our true self.
The process I am describing is not new, as it is akin to the many forms of mindfulness training which are at least as old as the Buddhist tradition, stretching back over 2500 years. However, ancient does not equate to extraneous as the fight for our attention in this age of information overload offers no shortage of opportunities for cluttered thinking. So, if you find yourself struggling here, you’re not alone, literally nothing in our post-modern culture has prepared you for this. Don’t quit, there’s gold yet to mine.
Thankfully there are a plethora of qualified guides who have charted well-worn courses through these murky mines. My current favorite is Michael A. Singer and his book, The Untethered Soul. What I appreciate most about Singer’s work is how thoughtfully he articulates the idea that you are not your thoughts, differentiating them from a deeper knowing. He goes on to explain how this deep knowing is accessible to us all if we can learn to receive it.
Conscious breathing is the process of learning to receive. Let me attempt to illuminate by sharing a recent sit with you.
It was a hot Saturday in Oklahoma and I had woken up later than intended, so I had to skip my breathing exercise in order to make my therapy appointment. At the end of another insightful session, my therapist asks me how the podcast is coming. Having not remembered him asking previously, I responded with, ‘What podcast?’ Quickly attempting to cover my insecurity with, ‘But I have always liked that idea!’ Undeterred, he fired back, ‘You have a lot to say, feels right for you,’ knowing an observation of this variety would usher me into a silent contemplation.
I am making my way thru the parking lot where the heat from the asphalt is thickening the air in dense, visible waves, when my phone goes off. I wipe my sweaty thumb on my shirttail and unlock my phone. It’s a message from a good friend thanking me for some recent advice and encouraging me to start a podcast.
A chill ran thru me as I drove straight home to my cushion in search of a deeper knowing.
I have been consistent with my conscious breathing practice for almost two months at this point and have achieved a modest level of mental muscle. Even so, as I settled into my sit, my conscious mind was abuzz with activity. ‘You should buy such and such a microphone.’ ‘Title the show such and such.’ ‘Have such and such guests.’ And on, and on. I keep breathing, let the thoughts pass while thanking the mind for its enthusiasm and bringing my attention back to the breath.
I make it to my fortieth breath and inhale deeply. My mind has quieted and I am able to fully feel my blood circulating thru my body carrying with it a deep sense of gratitude for the peace and plenty it supplies.
And then a deep blue washes over me. It’s more than a vision, it’s more of an immersion that lasts as long as my breath, roughly three minutes. I exhale, inhale and hold my recovery breath for a full fifteen seconds, then start on the next forty.
Inhale. Hold. Gold. Again it’s a full-on immersion of sensory overload to the extent I am even tasting gold for every bit three minutes. I keep going. On each successive fortieth breath a new experience: a thickening tongue which filled my mouth to the brink of bursting, a devouring hunger akin to have never eaten in all my 39 years, and, finally, my three-year-old Australian Sheppard nestling in my lap.
What does it all mean relative to any potential podcast in my future? For now, that is for me to know and you to find out in time, but, no matter, that is not the point of our present story. I am enumerating my experience with you in order to draw out the knowing process, to illuminate the stark difference between the way in which our conscious and unconscious minds communicate with us, My unconscious is very sensual and experiential, rarely speaking, rather offering full body meals for me to digest in due course. To discover how your unconscious communicates I suggest you get started learning to listen.
Think you got the idea? On to the final step.
As you settle into your practice, learning to listen to your unconscious, it will communicate with you. Fact is, it has always been trying to get your attention, to pull you back to your true path. It will always be your biggest ally in the face of life’s onslaught of trials, tribulations, and traumas. It has tried to get your attention in dreams and delirium, deja vu and visions, attempting to jolt away your awareness from the constant chatter of the ever-present conscious mind.
We just haven’t been listening.
What we are going to do now is invite our unconscious to take its proper place at the head of the table. We are going to let our breath be our maitre d’ as our oldest and greatest ally. We are going to feast on a five-star buffet of timeless wisdom.
Imagine having an all-access pass to on-demand dreams designed just for you.
So, what are you waiting for? Let me know how it goes in the comments below.