2020-01-26: Mindfulness of Breathing
2:21PM Jun 21, 2020
So I would like to talk this morning about mindfulness of breathing. It's one of my favorite topics. And it also is a very practical topic. And in a sense, it's a continuation of the few talks I've given this year so far, especially the last two talks on the Eightfold Path. The one part of the Eightfold Path that I went through in one sentence or so was mindfulness was the right mindfulness. And I think I said something like mindfulness is a practice that brings us into the present moment with clear awareness of what's happening, something like that. And one of the means that Buddhism has taught since the time of the Buddha, for having a relatively high quality, attention to the present moment, settled focus attention, the present moment is through the practice. of mindfulness of breathing. And it's possible that it's the Buddhist meditation practice that is been a common thread through the history of Buddhist practices down to the modern world. I think every Buddhist, you know, school that I practiced in, there was some reference or some centrality to mindfulness of breathing. I started practicing mindfulness of breathing, when I was first introduced to Zen when I was 20, or 21 years old, and I've been practicing attention to my breathing ever since. And it's been one of the great rewarding practices of my life and it still continues to unfold and develop and I appreciate it immensely. And I feel like it's been a wonderful companion for me through this life, and provides stability provides a means for understanding provides a means for insight for concentration, all kinds of wonderful things come from Attention to breathing. And it's certainly been true that spending time with breathing is how we become familiar with it, spending a lot of time with it. Getting to know it really well. the ins and outs of breathing is one way to where it would become enriched by the possibilities of mindfulness of breathing. And I think I hadn't I had no clue when I before I started meditating, that the breathing could be so valuable. I had a little hint of it. Perhaps, when, before I really started meditating, I lived alone for one week taking care of a farm, a small dairy farm. And in that week of solitude, I discovered that my chest could breathe in a very relaxed way, in a way that I'd never known before. Kind of free, breathing freely and lightly And then as I continue living that rural life, lifestyle, outdoors a lot working in the fields and stuff like that, there was something about that lifestyle that continually kind of freed up my flow of breathing. And it got to a feeling sometimes that my, my breathing was breathing itself in a way that I had never identified or felt or experienced. Earlier in my life. There was a freedom, there was a sense of freedom in the breathing and offensive ease and sense of delight, that my body was just breathing. And so I had some sense some hint from that. And then when I started doing my Zen practice, and defense, spend a lot of time with the breathing, the experience of, you know, of the value of it became clear and clear. And then when I was introduced to be passing that practice, that mindfulness of breathing practice continued, and it's continued right down to today. So The and also this mindfulness of breathing is the only practice that I'm familiar I know of with it that the Buddha claimed he did himself. He offered variety of different meditation practices, he taught it to people, but the one he kind of specified, like when he went off to on retreat by himself, he said, he said, I am practicing mindfulness of breathing. So, you know, so apparently was quite central to him. And he formulated or we think he formulated a set of 16 practices or sequence of 16 practices. I call them steps having to do with mindfulness of breathing, where the breathing is the continuity through these 16 steps. Did you know The involvement and fall in different way
and part of the value of bringing attention to the breathing room is a breeze. offers two seemingly contradictory benefits. It offers continuity, and it offers this continuity. And the continuity is that kind of like if you're walking on a on a, you know, in a wilderness path, if the path is clear, there's continuity of the path as you walk. But as you walk on the path, it's a continuous path. There's this continuity in your steps, you're one step past that kind of end, before the next stepping begins. And the step thing is continuous goes on and on and on. But the each step is, comes and goes. So the same way the breathing is kind of like the path or it's kind of like the steps that we take, and they they're continuous, that they use keep going and going. But and so what that provides that continuity is a wonderful check and balance. for not getting lost in thought, you know, the idea of a distracted mind preoccupied mind wandering, often thought is one of the big interferences to our ability to be really present in a clear way in the present moment to be settled, relaxed and here. And so a big part of meditation is coming to terms with this, training the mind or relaxing the mind enough so that it doesn't wander off. And a big part of that is to come back. Notice the mind wanders off and come back. If you have a dedication to the continuity of breathing, it's always there. Then it's kind of as a reference point to catch that the fact that you're wandered off if you just sit down to be present, and some open kind of way, you might not notice as much that your mind has wandered away and you're not present. But if you have regularity and the commitment to just being with the breath, you'll start seeing your mind wandering off. So this is the analogy I like for this is I kind of thought up when I was up in these creeks in the Santa Cruz Mountains here, I was sitting at the edge of a creek, beautiful water, very shallow water, maybe the water was probably three or four inches deep or something. And with water was very, very clear. And, and the slope of the river or the creek was very, very small. So if I couldn't tell that the water was flowing, it looked like it was you know, still because it was just no ripples, no current, no nothing. And then I took a little stick and I stuck it into the water. You know, perpendicular kind of in a in a vertical way. And then lo and behold, a little weak got formed. Little ripples got formed on the edges of the stick that show that there was occurred. So the same way the breathing, mindfulness of breathing can be that stick that we put in the current of our life, the flow of our life. And we start seeing things that we wouldn't have seen if we didn't have that reference point. And we start seeing how much the mind wanders off. For example, we start seeing how much emotions are operating and influence influencing us, we start seeing some of the desires and aversions that are operating some of the tensions that are building up and been formed. I believe because of my strong habit now of being aware of my breathing, it brings me back into my body. And one of the things I noticed because of that is I've gotten tense. I'm having a conversation or doing some kind of task, and I'm so busy with the conversation or task, I don't notice anything else except what I'm doing. But then if I come back into Feel my breathing is all Look, my shoulders are tense, my belly is tight. And so I discover something for me about myself. So mindfulness of breathing is a teacher is a way of learning about oneself coming back, coming back. Breathing is kind of the Nexus is the meeting place, of maybe our whole life. And it's remarkable how much breathing is affected by our mind and our hearts or thoughts or activities we do. The agitation in the business, the involvement of our emotional life and our thinking life affects the breathing. As we get more agitated, the breathing gets more agitated or bigger, stronger, as the mind gets calmer. You can feel how the breathing becomes calmer and more settled.
Same thing with physical activity. You know, I think most of you know that if you go for do vigorous physical activity that brings thing gets pretty labor and strong. Some of that's quite nice to do if you exercise or play a sport or something, but still you need a lot more oxygen in order to keep your energy going and being active. And so how you are physically affects, you know, your tempo and the depths and the fullness of which you're breathing. And it's in reverse order as well, that if if you calm down the body, sit and be still, the breathing calms down, it's still there and quieter. The breathing has a reciprocal relationship to those other areas of our life. If we calm our breathing down, it calms the mind and the heart, it settles it. If we, if we calm the breathing down, sometimes the physical body begins to relax as well. We can expend a tremendous amount of energy in the body, by being tense. You could be sitting completely still In a chair, and use a lot of energy because of all the tension that's coursing through the system. But if you allow the breathing to relax, breathe deeply, with full exhale fully, kind of begin tuning into your breath and kind of regulate a little bit, that sometimes that begins to settle the body as well. So I like to think of the breathing as a meeting place of all these different parts of our life. And, and so you know, breathing changes, because how were the emotions we have, where we breathe, how we breathe, we might breathe more shallowly, we might breathe more in the belly or more in the chest, or all kinds of things shift and change in how we breathe because of what we're feeling and what we're doing. And so to begin bringing attention to the breathing gives us a vantage point, to address to touch to change, to have an effect and to understand so many different aspects of our life. It's really okay. I have a fantastic vehicle for, for self understanding and self transformation. The the Buddha in this 16 step instructions for mindfulness of breathing that the Buddha gives in he talks about breathing in and breathing out. And the word that he uses for breathing in for the inhale is a word that normally will mean just breathing in the ancient language. But when it's used together with the word exhale, it means inhale. So, though it's interesting, the word is in Pali is us society. And that's the verb to breathe. And that's the first dictionary definition of the word. The second entry in the dictionary for the word is to breathe in In a free or quiet way, yeah, to breathe freely or quietly. So it's kind of nice. It's not just any old breathing, but to breathe freely and quietly, the and then it also means to feel relieved, to be comforted. And to be and to have courage. Somehow for the ancient people, this word for breathing has these other associations. We do that a little bit in English too, right? So for example, we will say, you know, something has nothing to do with your breathing or something breath. You'll say that was a breath of fresh air by association, or we have the expression. I want some breathing room. You know, that guy had a lot of breathing room finally had some breathing room. And so for the ancients that you know, it was To have courage to be relieved, to be comforted, is associated with breathing. And so to cultivate, to develop in a in a, in an experiential way, really feel and experience and are nurtured by a kind of breathing. That is where the breathing is breathe, breathing freely, maybe quietly, where there's a feeling of being relieved
feeling of being comforted or assured and a feeling of being of having courage. These are very important qualities and that the breathing should help us have that is fantastic. Because as the path of meditation deepens, there are times where having some form of comfort from the practice helps us go through the uncomfortable aspects of spiritual growth. Having some capacity for courage helps us to go through the fear producing sides of a spiritual growth. If you're on a spiritual path that's not, that's never uncomfortable and never involve some fear. You're probably not in a spiritual path. If you think it's all about, you know, just dropping in and being in bliss or being just, you know, just like it's all good, then you haven't really studied your mind or your heart. You know, it's a big deal to kind of meet oneself and see one's attachments and fears and conditioning we have and it really helps to go through it. If we really cultivated a comforting, comfort inside, ease inside and to have discovered how to breathe in the easy way in a relaxed way. The breathing kind of feels like a breeze itself. Give us inspiration Gives courage gives capacity to go through things which are difficult. It's kind of like two things can exist together, a breathing, which is easy and relaxed, and a difficult, you know, situation that we're in, and then we're not caught by the situation. One of the wonderful things about mindfulness of breathing is if the breathing is held, we're probably caught by something. If the breathing has gotten too shallow, and we're kind of not breathing hardly at all, you're probably gotten caught in your mind, you're really attached to something. And any of you who've gone to yoga classes, you know, you know, it's kind of, I think one of the most frequent prompts that I've I can remember when I used to do yoga classes was Remember to breathe. First time the first few times I heard that What do you mean Remember to breathe you And, of course, I'm breathing. But you know, there was a lot of holding because of trying too hard or the challenges of it or something. And so, but we do that in small ways. And so to learn even the small ways the breath is held or Kelvin check or something, and then to learn to relax it. And to soften if we do it over and over again, in meditation. To do this 10,000 times in meditation, it becomes a habit becomes something we're so familiar with. So, like second nature, to check in and feel what's going on here. That if you feel the breath being held, that's, that's the information you needed to know that, you know, Oh, I should breathe, I should relax here. You do that. You're less you're going to be a little bit less caught up in the situation you're too caught up in maybe not dramatically, or maybe enough that you know, okay, I can relax, you know, just Okay, I'm gonna be breathing. Let me breathe and relax, relax my belly and just breathe. And then the buildup of tension to build up of, of a stress doesn't, you know doesn't continue. So it goes in the opposite direction as well. So when mindfulness of breathing is first practiced the practice, just get to know your breath. Just come back and be with your breath, feel your breath, establish yourself and your breathing. And it doesn't matter how often your mind wanders off from the breathing. It only matters how far you come back. And I say that because because when people have this idea that to be successful with something you have to be successful at doing it. At mindfulness or breathing, all you have to do is be successful that is coming back, not staying there. Because it's almost like you're giving yourself a massage. Your attachment to massage, your thinking mind and massage and relaxing. It when you when it goes away from the present moment, and you bring it back, every time you bring it back, you're doing the massage, and you're softening, you're lessening the strength of energy that goes into preoccupation goes into rumination. And it might be insignificant, how much you weaken that force by doing it once,
by doing it 10 times by doing 100 times, but maybe 1000 times begin making a difference, maybe 10,000 times makes a difference. And some of you are probably thinking Gil's ridiculous 10,000 times. I mean, why would I ever do that? Well, if if we sat for 35 minutes here today, and and I wonder how many times you brought yourself back during those once a minute. That's, that's 35 times So, you know, what does that mean? In 30 days, you'll get your thousand times coming back. What? Oh, yes, get a Fitbit that tells you how many times you program it. And so you know, so it begins changing and changing. But in addition to weakening the forces of the mind this way, we're also developing understanding. We're developing capacity to, to understand what takes us away, how to connect to the breath in a nice way, how to enter the breathing experientially, so it's pleasant, enjoyable to place we like to be and so we're getting to know the breathing and knowing how to breathe in a nice way knowing how to attend to the breath, where does it feel good when you breathe? What part of the breathing feels nice? What do you have to relax in your in your torso, to the breathing feels more natural and pleasant to be with? Because what we're looking for is coming to experience a breathing that you enjoy being with. That's nice for people who are uninitiated or begin, that's not what's happening right away, it might take a long time to really cultivate a breathing that's really a nice pleasant place to attend to. The breathing can feel like cardboard, it can feel mechanical, it can feel dull and boring, it can feel uninteresting. But if we allow ourselves to settle and let go settle and let go, things will begin to relax. And one of the things that relaxes are the forces and very strong forces inside of us. That tell us we can't really shouldn't relax. We have to be busy. And the idea that you for example, that the breathing is boring, could be very strong. If we were if we were living with discomfort, and we feel I have to do something about my discomfort. I have to entertain myself I have to fix something I have to be busy, I have to do something. And the paradox is that there's that force a desire that impulse to want to do and fix and be successful and whatever that might be do something you know, to get them in do something, acquire something, even if it just entertainment is in itself uncomfortable. And one of the responses to discomfort that some people have is to do something, to get something to want something. You see the loop we get stuck in. If the very we start feeling uncomfortable strategy is to try to get something, do something. And then but the very feeling in order to kind of settle that discomfort, but the very act of looking and trying to get something is itself uncomfortable and in a I've experienced it in a funny way, sometimes. Sometimes if I get too busy cleaning my house, I go around cleaning and I'm assuming maybe in a hurry, tried to do a lot of cleaning, and then I kind of time to stop. And my mind is still kind of searching for somebody to clean. You know, like I gotta do, I got to do something, you know, like, I have to actually do something, you know, because that's the mindset. So sometimes when the mindfulness of breathing is boring, or we feel like there's more important things to do, it's a simple, very symptom, or very force in the mind, that the whole meditation is trying to settle. So if you give into the boredom, you don't allow yourself to relax and settle that to discover what's deeper, much deeper. As the mind relaxes, as we meditate, as the breathing relaxes as the body relaxes, then we will find ourselves in very interesting place where the space of relax, it's kind of like relaxation and attention and awareness creates a space room in which our life can begin to gather.
It's kind of like with a metaphor that the family and friends will gather around the hearth of the house. So, the the your, your thoughts, your emotions, your impulses, your your psychophysical life, all the different aspects of it. It kind of like that will come in and gather at the earth, gather at the kitchen gathered by the fire will come together. Or it's kind of like everything that's active in our life, centrifugal forces fragmentation that things are spinning out away from each other. If there's space and relaxation, we're no longer feeding that fragmenting forces Everything wants to flow downhill, everything, everything wants to roll down to the bottom of the hill. All the different activities in our mind and hearts and bodies, wants to come to some kind of some kind of wonderful rest. And so as we settle and get relaxed and make space, the space of awareness just to be with things, that space allows things to settle. But they don't just settle, they settle together, they come together, they gather together at the bottom of the bowl, from you know, spinning up in the sides. And this wonderful experience of things becoming unified, gathered together. settled, is one of the great pleasures of meditation, feeling whole, having some sense of integrity, no longer feeling fragmented. All the different parts of our sense of who we are gathered together into a whole kind of is a wonderful feeling. But that is only a step. Stone for going further meditation. So we develop a pleasant breath, the ability to stay with the breath, have this gathering together, this harmonizing that unifying portal, have the breath become a comfort for ourselves and guide me support. And, and then it becomes easier and easier to stay in the present moment. And at that point, we're capable of something that Buddhism puts a tremendous importance on. Something that we often teach. And it's kind of like core to the mindfulness. But it's actually difficult to do if the mind is not settled if we're not settled and connected in here in a nice way. And that is to simply observe your experience. To observe what's happening, to have the ability to settle back and not interfere with what's happening, not to judge it not to be in conflict with it, not to be reactive with it, Devin Aquinas, Mr. Open, peaceful, just observing what's here. And some people will complain, just to observe is not enough I have to do something observing is doing something. Because the mind is affected by what it does. You can't watch the mind can't watch your inner life with a simple nonreactive awareness without changing it. And so, as we, as we just observe, and no longer interfere, then we start witnessing a natural process that Buddhism will call the spiritual process towards liberation. And it's a beautiful thing to start and feeling and experiencing. There's something inside of us. There's wisdom. There's there's deliberative force inside of us, a natural phenomena natural process that wants to happen if we get out of the way, while at the same time we just settled back and really watching, watching, don't interfere with anything. But that, that observation and that ability to observe, really observe is often considered in the teachings of the Buddha, at very high practice, a very highly developed practice. It's how to the Buddha called it, how to practice in accordance with the Dharma, or how to practice in harmony with the truth. So, so for the Buddha, this practice of mindfulness of breathing the 16 steps is building and building and building until it gets to this point. The last four of the 16 steps, where the person has the ability to settle back and just observe
and the whole process they get there has been a beautiful process, wonderful process, but then to finally finally be able to just sit still. And the mind has no tendency to wander off, mind is stabilized and present and the breathing continues. The breathing keeps us kind of like the massage or the, the, the, the, the beat or the rhythm of being present or being here with All Things just as they are watch. And then watching this process towards liberation, which is a process of release of letting go deep, letting go letting go at the very core of our being, something can let go and release itself and to have you know, our Heart release itself is one of the greatest things that your heart can have. And to find the place where the heart releases itself, the mind releases itself is one of the results of mindfulness of breathing. So that was a pep talk. And for mindfulness of breathing, and occasionally there, I mean, there are some people for whom mindfulness of breathing doesn't work. They've had some trauma in their life around round breathing. And so it's not a useful practice for them. And there are other things to teach other ways of not being mindful and practicing mindfulness. So don't worry about that. But But for many people, it's a wonderful practice. And it's a wonderful to check into your breathing throughout the day. Standing in a supermarket waiting for the light to turn green or you're driving, waiting for the bus to come. Just breathe, check in, make make that you know your home. And what you and it's a fair chance that spending a few moments or minutes with your breathing in those kinds of circumstances when you have little gaps in the day is what probably be better things to do with your time than the alternative you have. I don't know what alternatives you're doing sitting there traffic, but it's good, you know, breathing is pretty good. So I believe all of you have been breathing for a long time. And we have a potluck in about 10 minutes or so. And it's nice for these potluck days for people to introduce themselves to each other. So if you don't mind, taking a couple of minutes to turn towards maybe one or two people near you and say hello to them. Notice that Someone's around you maybe doesn't have a partner just kind of so really more inclusive. And, and then also, if you want to have a little bit more conversation, maybe there's one thing that you know about your breathing attention to your breathing. That's been nice for you in your lifetime. So one one nice thing about breathing to share with your friends. Thank you