2021-01-22 Mindfulness of Breathing (16) Clarifying Attitudes
4:43PM Jan 22, 2021
Continuing with the practice of mindfulness of breathing, I've covered the first four steps of the 16. And rather than continuing today with that, into the fifth step, I think it's good to emphasize the importance of caring for one's attitude in meditation. And one of the inspirations for that today is to have an attitude of patience, to not succumb to any attitude of impatience, wanting more, eager to go to go further, wanting to somehow always feel like we're improving and getting more, learning more, or learning something new.
There's something quite, there's something quite simple about mindfulness of breathing, and maybe even something humble. There's a kind of lack of greed, or wanting more, or expectation of more. A willingness. Instead, there's a willingness to just be ordinary and simple, and be kind of in the, you know, on the ground floor. To be somehow a modest servant of the Dharma, modest servant of the practice. To really kind of give ourselves over to the practice the best we can. But trust the Dharma. Trust this process. Just be willing to kind of offer the sincere way, our best we can. And then trust that what will unfold, will unfold accordingly. And we don't have to be ahead of ourselves, or looking ahead, or planning ahead.
So in mindfulness of breathing, one of the first lessons for many people is patience – lots of patience. And it's also a little bit of a trick, I suppose maybe, to say this. It's true. It's completely true, what I'm saying. And it turns out that the fastest way to develop in meditation is to not be in a hurry.
The fastest way to cultivate the receptivity, the openness, the calm, the settledness that really allows the practice to unfold and deepen – is not to be too concerned about unfolding and deepening. To be more concerned about just being content. To sit patiently, openly, with what we actually have in the moment. To have continuity with breathing, as if we're in it for the long term. As if, you know, this is, you know, our job is just to keep showing up and doing the best we can and, and let the progress take care of itself.
So what I'm talking about here is an attitude. And a huge part of meditation is coming to terms with, understanding, and adjusting the attitude with which we meditate. And one of the advantages of meditation is that there's something about sitting quietly in meditation – doing something as simple as being with the breathing – that we start seeing attitudes we have, which are invisible in daily life. But we don't really notice that well. Some of them because they're so subtle. Some because they're so habituated, they've kind of become invisible to us. And, and certainly we don't see the subtlety of how it works.
And so when we sit and meditate, we have this heightened sensitivity. Even the smallest movements of attitudes that take us away, or interfere with the deepening of settling. Just being there in a simple, relaxed, patient way starts standing out in the highlight.
Now if we has a tendency to be self-critical, when we sit in meditation, we can easily get much more material to use to criticize ourselves. If the mind wanders off a little bit too often, then: "I'm a wandering off kind of person, and that's not so good. Or if I am aversive to what's happening, or if I'm too greedy and want something better, and I see that, then, "Oh, this is not a good Buddhist thing to be aversive and greedy. And now I'm an embarrassment to the Buddhist cause." And, and so we're kind of berating ourselves.
Start seeing these movements, these attitudes, these beliefs that come into play. And to recognize them as such, "Oh, there is an attitude. There's an interpretation. There's a judgment."
And it's kind of attitude is more like the way in which we hold our experience, the disposition that we have, the the way we feel, think, and respond. The manner by which we respond, the atmosphere with which we respond to things. The way we think and feel. So and so we started seeing these attitudes.
And one attitude that I had, when I, early years of meditation was I was sitting in meditation halls with other people. And I would compare myself to them. I had no idea what was going on in their meditation. But still I had this attitude that the grass is greener elsewhere. That the over there, in that person – that really was supposed to be good meditation. And why am I not there? And it was a silly attitude to have, because I had no idea was going on in them. It was just an attitude or kind of a kind of a kind of a belief that I carried with me. And it was more than a belief because it came with a whole kind of atmosphere of feeling sorry for myself, or feeling discouraged, or feeling somehow left out of what was the really the important thing – what everyone else was experiencing. All these other attitudes, or kind of beliefs are coming in. And, and I'd get caught up in them.
And one of the things that was really delightful was to appreciate that I didn't have to solve these things. I didn't have to berate myself, or be too involved in fixing them. I could just trust my breathing. Just come back and stay with breathing – just stay and stay. And, and when when I did that, the energy of attention then went to feed mindfulness of breathing, rather than feeding these attitudes.
And all too often we reinforce unhealthy attitudes, rumination, preoccupation, believing them, having them be the catalyst, the fuel for how we think about things. But just come back to breathing. Trust the breathing. Be really simple. And I had these images, you know, for me, it's just, you know, that there's, you're on your scooter, and you're pushing through and, and maybe there's a place where there are cobblestones. So it's a little bit rough to ride on it, and it's not so comfortable. But you're still you know, just keep pushing and pushing. Soon enough you come out of the cobblestones, and then maybe the road is smooth again.
And so, so attitudes, and I wanted to offer you a few attitudes, or a few orientations that you might think are helpful for meditation. And so here's one, kind of a policy attitude, understanding that you can kind of keep close by: it's enough to clearly recognize what is happening. It is enough just to recognize what's happening in the present. Nothing needs to be fixed, or changed. Just recognize.
Patience with all that happens. It's good to have patience with whatever is happening. Being in a hurry is a form of greed. There is nothing to prove or resist in meditation. Every occurrence is it time to learn something new about being peaceful. So whatever is happening, you don't have to resist it. You don't have to prove anything in relationship to it. You don't have to defend yourself, or explain yourself, or justify yourself, or berate yourself. It's just something new. It's just something that you can learn something new about how to be peaceful,. How not to be caught. How to be not non agitated about this.
Another attitude is that you are a valuable person. Your well being is important. And your capacity for attention is a treasure. No message that you are less than beautiful, is worth believing. No message that you are less than beautiful, is worth believing.
And finally, trust the awareness that flows out of stillness. Trust the awareness that flows out of calm, or tranquility, or stillness.
These five attitudes that I just kind of recited have in common that they promote calm non-reactive attention, including calm nonreactive attention to our reactivity. So this is kind of the the sleight of hand, or the paradox. Or for some people, they delight in their amusement is that of course, we're going to have reactivity. Of course, we're not going to be calm. But can we be calm and nonreactive to that?
And, and one way to do that is not to be too concerned about fixing things, or trying to solve anything going on. But just come back, and trust mindfulness of breathing. Just be with your breathing, constantly pushing the scooter of mindfulness. Riding the wave of mindfulness, wave after wave. Waves of breathing. And if something is particularly strong, and therefore compelling for your mind to pay attention to – like, some strong physical sensations, maybe pain, maybe strong emotions. Maybe there's a strong bout of thinking that goes on. One way to have a certain degree of tranquility with that is, is to stay with your breathing – so there's continuity, constancy. It's like the breathing becomes the background beat. Or the, you know, the rhythm of your music that just keeps it going. The rhythm of your poem.
One way to do that is to breathe with what's compelling. Breathe through it. So sometimes you really need to acknowledge what's happening – the full acknowledgement and mindfulness of what's compelling and challenging is really important. You can't just ignore it, and push it aside. But it's possible to stay with the breathing, and then and then breathe through, and breathe with.
One way to see this is to think of mindfulness of breathing, as the center of your focus of attention. And anything else that needs some attending, you allow it to be in the peripheral vision of attention, in the peripheral attention. So it doesn't have to get, you know, it doesn't have to capture your attention. It just has to be known that it's there. And you just keep going – just like you would on a scooter or going through town. There are all kinds of things you may have to keep attentive to: the traffic, people, and all stuff. But they're a little more in the peripheral vision. And the central vision is just keeping your eye on where you're going with that scooter.
So where you're going with a scooter of mindfulness of breathing is on a long or short journey – on a journey that takes you to the next breath. That's all. One breath after the other. So enjoy your mindfulness of breathing. And we'll continue on this wonderful path where this breathing practice can take us.