2021-03-19 Mindfulness of Breathing (58) Liberating the Mind
2:59PM Mar 19, 2021
Now we come to the twelfth step of the sixteen steps of 'ānāpānasati' – the practice of mindfully breathing in, and mindfully breathing out. The twelfth step is: "Breathing in, one liberates the mind. Breathing out, one liberates the mind."
It's the twelfth step, not the sixteenth, so it's usually said not to be the full, complete possibility of liberation that Buddhism champions. But it is a significant experience of freedom, liberation, and letting go that makes an impression on the mind. It makes an impression on us. It's educational. It's opening. It's inspiring.
It begins pointing the way: "Oh, 'this' is what the path is. This is really the direction of practice, the direction of this path that we're on." It's like a door has opened and now we know something we didn't know before.
Remember, it's the twelfth step. What that means is that the first eleven steps are, in a sense, a preparation for this step. If we simply hear that the only instruction for Buddhism is to "Let go. Let go. Let go," I don't know if that would be very useful for people to hear. Also, it might not give the right idea of what letting go is about. It might feel like, "Oh, I just let go of everything I have, and have nothing as a result, and I'll be impoverished in some way. And if I let go, there's nothing left. I'll just be kind of depressed and miserable."
Letting go happens after the first eleven steps, which prepare the ground, open up the field, and set up a sense of well-being in which letting go has a very wonderful context. We understand the tremendous value of letting go because of the wholesomeness and the beneficial states we're experiencing.
So, to review this a little bit – how the context is set up for letting go: The practice begins with simply mindfully breathing in and out. This helps the mind calm down, get focused, and helps us show up and be present for our experience. I think, for most people, that's where the bulk of the practice is. Even people who've practiced for a long time, when they sit down to meditate they're at steps one and two.
This idea that there's a progression – you're always supposed to be at the growing edge of these sixteen steps – is an unnecessary source of stress and misunderstanding. It's easy, then, to miss ourselves in the process, and not really connect to ourselves.
The idea of mindfulness practice is to really become ourselves, be ourselves – to really be honest about what's here, and to learn how to rest and be present for it. And this idea of just breathing in and out through it all is a way of supporting us to not resist, not try to escape, not try to avoid what is here, but to really be present, facing what's here and working through it. Just breathe with it. And relax, heal, open up, and release the things that have to be released.
As we do this practice, at some point we begin feeling – recognizing – that we can relax the body. Sometimes the body just relaxes itself in meditation. Often we don't have to do the relaxing. The body becomes more tranquil, more calm. And that feels like a good thing.
The more we practice, the more calm and relaxed the body becomes. As the body becomes calmer and more relaxed, and we let go of some of the tension we have, some feelings of well-being can well up. This sense of contentment, ease, and relaxation can, in itself, bring a kind of joy and happiness.
And so the practice begins inching its way into feeling some joy, happiness, contentment, and well-being that set the stage for us to better appreciate the tensions of the mind, mental activity, and stresses that are there.
When we start seeing that, we start to relax the mental activities, calm the agitation of the mind, relax the mind – relax the mental muscle, the thinking muscle. The mental activities – which can be swirling around, fragmented, and going off in different directions – begin to settle down. The mental activity starts coming into harmony with itself, and into harmony and unity with the settling process of meditation.
Then we come to the third tetrad, all of which has to do with the mind, the 'citta.' 'Citta' can be understood as the 'heart/mind.' It's our inner life. This would not be an appropriate Buddhist term, but it may be that some modern people would use the word 'soul' – the deepest places inside – inside our psyche and inside ourselves. It might also be the soul – the mind, the heart, the mind/heart – is what Buddhists talk about.
We start to recognize that we have an inner life, an inner mind, an inner quality of life – a mood, a state that's inside – and we start to become the caretaker of that. Because of the earlier steps of 'ānāpānasati,' it begins to feel good to be connected to this deep – if I may use a Western word – soul. For some people it really feels like a homecoming, more than if you say 'mind' or 'heart.'
The heart – this heart/mind – really feels – "Oh, this is good – this inner state, this state of being." There can be gladness, deep satisfaction, and contentment of being home – connected to something deep. We're not spinning around on the surface of our thoughts and ideas, scattered in our mind. We're really starting to feel whole and unified.
That process of becoming unified, unscattered, undisbursed continues into the eleventh step with 'samādhi.' With unification and steadying, this whole mind state comes and gets gathered together, and there's a lot of well-being. Some of the greatest forms of joy and happiness come from 'samādhi' – from a mind that's unified, settled, and connected.
So by the time we get to step twelve – letting go, liberating the mind, there's a tremendous amount of well-being. There's a feeling of being really at home, connected. Rather than letting go being an impoverishment, a diminishment of ourselves, we start really seeing that what we're letting go of is, in fact, what diminishes us. It is what impoverishes us.
There's something about the mind getting caught, preoccupied, obsessing about things, spinning around in thoughts and ideas, and holding onto fear. Oddly enough, we can cling to fear.
We cling to resistance – to all kinds of things that we resist, or hold onto, cling to for dear life. Clinging to self and self image. Clinging to hurt. There are all kinds of things that people will cling to.
But it's seen on this reservoir, on this foundation of well-being, goodness, freedom or clarity. So it's really clear that this clinging is a separation from well-being. Letting go just feels like: "Of 'course,' I'll let go. What I'm letting go of is so obviously a diminishment, a source of suffering, a source of stress. Of course, I'll let go."
Sometimes letting go – the liberation that happens here – is so innate that it's not something we have to do. We just keep staying present, breathing with the experience and just letting things be, letting things be. Something will just let go by itself because it takes a certain kind of mental involvement to remain clinging. If we just let things be, let things be, even our clinging will self-liberate at some point – the self-liberating capacity of all things.
And so, we come to the twelfth step. We come to the time of liberation, of letting go. It's at this point that some people find it a really wonderful thing, when you sit down to meditate, to just let go, let go, let go.
Whatever arises, let it go. Let it be. Let it be. Don't be involved. Don't pick it up. Don't get reactive to it. Don't pull away. Just let go. Let it be. Let it be. Let it go.
We let go of everything. We let go even of mindfulness – being aware. We let go of self. We let go of knowing. We let go even of letting go at some point. Just let go.
Let go of being the agent of it. Let go of having an agenda. Let go of trying to be complete, or of getting enlightened even. Just let go. Let go. It's as if that's all there is.
Let go of needing to let go even. Wherever it's possible – that next moment – let go of this. Let go of this. The twelfth step of 'ānāpānasati': "Breathing in, liberating the mind. Breathing out, liberating the mind."
That's the entryway to the last four steps of 'ānāpānasati.' Letting go and liberation here is not the end of the story. In some ways, it's the beginning of the story. Sometimes it's said – in the folklore of Buddhism – that the Buddhist path really begins when we have a qualitative experience of letting go, of liberation.
That's when we know: "'This' is what it's about. This is what freedom is possible. This is what really feels good and feels inspiring. This is such a qualitatively good experience, such a rich experience. It's an experience that's filled with potential for compassion, love, freedom, goodness, lack of causing harm or wanting to cause harm in the world. This is a good thing."
That's where we are in this process. We'll continue it on Monday. Over this weekend, why don't you talk to some friends about what they've learned about how letting go is useful, and when letting go is useful? Have conversations about the benefits of letting go and how letting go can be done in wise ways. Look for opportunities to let go. Be really excited to explore all the different dimensions you can find of when, how, and where letting go operates for you, or can operate for you.
If we do that, then we'll have a better foundation for continuing our adventure next week, on Monday. Thank you.