Writing Assignment: Write About Your Breathing

by Randy Murray on August 22, 2014

One of the most important things for writers to learn is how to observe and record. It’s relatively easy when you’re observing something other than yourself. But when you turn your focus back at yourself can you observe what you’re doing without changing your actions?

Take, for instance, your breathing. Breathing is one of the most natural and basic autonomic actions that your body performs. We breathe to live. We can change it by taking deep breaths. We can hold it for a time. And we can learn to breathe in different ways, but when we turn our attention away we still breathe, unwatched, unnoticed.

Notice it. The first thing that happens when I focus on my own breathing is that I stop breathing. I don’t breathe in or out. There’s a moment where I hear just my heartbeat, another thing that I don’t regularly listen or pay attention to. And then I relax, take in a breath, and try and feel what’s going on. It’s difficult. If you’re skilled and experienced at meditation you might be able to manage this observation more easily. Maybe.

The key to observing is to separate oneself from the thing observed. Modern physics tells us that to observe a thing changes it (at the quantum level). But we are not observing at the quantum level. You can watch a squirrel from a distance without changing its behavior, but can you observe your own actions without altering them?

For today’s assignment observe your own breathing and write a few paragraphs on the sounds that you make, the rhythms of your breathing, and how both change as you focus on them.

You can perform this exercise in a number of places, both public and private. Try it in public, with your eyes open, then try it when you are alone and can close your eyes and focus for an extended period of time.

After you’ve written your assignment, read it, and while reading, see what happens to your breathing. Does your breathing fall into the pattern that you’ve recorded? Does it change in any way? And after you’ve read and observed again, write once more about what you’ve heard and experienced.

This is an excellent beginning assignment and one that can be repeated daily.

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