I am going to teach you a centering technique that verges on the miraculous. You can dramatically improve your ability to center, become more calm and more powerful, and radically improve your life by taking ten-second pauses of the sort that I’m about to describe. You’ll be amazed to learn that such a life-altering strategy can come in a span as small as ten seconds, but it can! Hundreds of my clients, and hundreds of volunteers, have used this technique to center, calm, and ground themselves while waiting in traffic, sitting in the dentist’s office, preparing to record a new album, or readying themselves to talk to their teenager. They know firsthand that this technique works.

This ten-second technique has two components: a breathing part and a thinking part. The basis of Ten Zen Seconds is using a single deep breath as a container for a specific thought. First you practice deep breathing until you can produce a breath that lasts about five seconds on the inhale and five seconds on the exhale. Learning to do this will take you only a few minutes. Then you insert a thought into the breath, silently thinking half the thought on the inhale and half the thought on the exhale. This, too, will take you only a short time to learn. In an afternoon you can familiarize yourself with the program outlined in this book.

If this ten-second centering technique sounds very simple, it’s because it is: It is simple to grasp, simple to practice, simple to use, and simple to master. It’s nevertheless profound in its benefits. You will be able to do things that previously felt too painful or too difficult to attempt. You will be able to calm and center yourself before an important meeting or conversation. You will change your basic attitudes about life—moving from pessimism to optimism, procrastination to effort, and worry to calm. These are the benefits that await you.

I’m adapting a word from the world of magic—incantation—to describe these breath-and-thought bundles. An incantation is a ritual recitation of a verbal charm meant to produce a magical effect. Those are exactly our methods and our aims. The magical effects are instant centering and instant calm. The ritual we use is breathing a certain way and thinking a certain thought for ten seconds at a time. The verbal charms are the specific thoughts that I’ll teach you, with twelve incantations in all.

We know from Eastern practices like yoga and meditation the importance of the twin concepts of breath awareness and mindfulness. Breath awareness is simply paying attention to the way we breathe while reminding ourselves to breathe more deeply and more fully than we usually do. As we rush through life we breathe shallowly, as our mind chatter propels us forward. Burdened by what Buddhists call “monkey mind”—that worried, needy, grasping, anxious, unaware mind of the everyday person—we fall into the habit of automatic shallow breathing.

A vicious cycle evolves where we maintain this shallow breathing as a defense against knowing our own thoughts. In a corner of consciousness we know that if we were to slow down and breathe deeply we would become fully aware of our thoughts and learn too much about what we’re actually thinking. Out of a fear that acquiring such an understanding would upset us, we make sure not to engage in deep breathing.

If we were willing to engage in conscious deep breathing, we would become more mindful. We would begin to see our own tricks; how what we hold as facts are mere opinions, how our usual ways of operating often sabotage us, and how pain, resentment, and -disappointment course through our system. Therefore, mindfulness is much easier to champion as an abstract idea than it is to tolerate in reality. Mindfulness implies that we grow aware of how our mind actually operates, which is a scary proposition.

I’m employing a very simple version of breath awareness as a core element of Ten Zen Seconds. You have nothing arcane to learn, no long sitting meditations to endure, no distinctions to make between emptying your mind and concentrating. You will simply learn and practice one long, deep breath, a breath longer and fuller than you usually experience. This addition to your breathing repertoire is all you need to take from Eastern practice in order to begin your transformation to mindfulness and centeredness.

From Western thought I’m taking the basic ideas of cognitive --therapy. The main idea of cognitive therapy is that what we say to ourselves—our self-talk—is the primary way we maintain our problems, defenses, flaws, and blocks. If we manage to change our self-talk we have done something profound, something more substantial than just making some innocent linguistic alterations.

The twelve incantations I’ll teach you function the way that “thought substitutes” function in cognitive therapy. A cognitive therapist (and I am one) teaches you to identify maladaptive self-talk, confront and dispute wrong thinking, and substitute new language that supports your intention to move in a certain direction. You learn to notice your characteristic forms of distorted thinking and create thought substitutes that in form and content are indistinguishable from affirmations. These are key ideas from cognitive therapy that underpin Ten Zen Seconds.

Ten-second centering does not demand a full practice of mindful meditation or a complete course in cognitive therapy. In an important sense I have done that work for you by presenting you with twelve incantations that you might have arrived at yourself through insight meditation, self-reflection, pain, and suffering. When, for instance, I teach you the incantation “I expect nothing” and explain to you why it is important to let go of expectations, though not of goals or dreams, I will be presenting an idea that you might have arrived at through years of ardent practice. The practice has been done for you and you can reap the benefits.

This is not an illegitimate shortcut. Suffering is overrated. I would prefer that you change your life in a day and not in a decade. I hope that you agree. I hope that you concur that you have already earned your merit badges in suffering and that it is legitimate to quickly learn a way of centering that works, rather than arriving at one by studying everything that the East and the West have to offer.

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Author's Bio: 

--An excerpt from Ten Zen Seconds: Twelve Incantations for Purpose, Power and Calm © 2007, 2018 by Eric Maisel, published by Ixia Press, an imprint of Dover Publications, October 2018.