2021-01-07 Mindfulness of Breathing (4): Steps 1 and 2 - Experiencing Breathing
5:01PM Jan 7, 2021
So today, the topic is to discuss the first two steps of ānāpānasati. And probably will do this for a couple of days at least. And the first two steps of the 16 steps of mindfulness of breathing begins with a statement is a statement about begins first we ended yesterday, that you go to a forest, to the foot of a tree, to an empty hut. And sit down cross legged, be upright, and establish awareness - establish sati (mindfulness) to the forefront.
And then to mindfully breathing in, and mindfully breathe out. And, and I think what's inherent in this is the idea that we're, we're not so much doing mindfulness, as we're dedicated to really staying close to our innate natural capacity to be aware. And so in, we're opening our awareness, we're settling awareness, we're tapping into our capacity to be aware. You maybe get a little sense of, if I tell you to stop being aware - just cut it out. And if I, you know, if someone tells you, "Okay, stop! Enough of this awareness thing." And you try to turn it off. Unless you go to sleep or something, or really distract yourself. You might think that you're not aware, but awareness is just part and parcel of being conscious. It's part and parcel of life - certainly of a wakeful life.
And so, this, this interplay of what we do, and what we allow for, is inherent in this practice of ānāpānasati. And there is an engagement in the allowing, but we don't do the awareness. We allow the awareness, and we allow the awareness to take in the experience of breathing. And as we begin experiencing it, then there are other different faculties of attention that come into play.
So with the first step of ānāpānasati, the instructions are and and I'll tell you what it is, and then I'm going to talk about some of the individual words. [Recites]: "One trains oneself that as one breathes in a long breath, one experiences that it as a long breath. One trains oneself that as one breathes out a long breath, one experiences it as a long exhale."
And so first, the idea of training oneself. This is a training practice. We're cultivating, we're developing ourselves as a training program that we're doing here. And, and we're training ourselves to be in the present moment. We're training ourselves to stay close to, or rest in this dynamic and interesting place of awareness. And we're training that ability to be aware, to allow awareness and to stay close to it, with the breathing. The breathing is always in the present moment. So if we're with the breathing, we're with the present moment.
So we're, we're training ourselves, and training ourselves to do something specific, at this point, this first step. And that is to experience the breathing. So what this means is we're not literally following the breath. The air that we're breathing is not really the object of the meditation, but rather, it's the sensations that in the body come into play as we're breathing.
And so, you know, if you take a deep breath, you feel the movement of the chest, the stretching maybe of the chest, the expansion. And then as you exhale, you feel the release of that expansion - the movement back, the settling back. And depending where you're experiencing the breathing, whether it's the belly, the chest, the nostrils or the whole show of breathing, the whole body breathing - we experience different sensations. And there are many sensations that come into play. There's pressure and the release of pressure, there's smoothness and choppiness, there's tension that happens as we breathe in, the release of tension. There is temperature that comes into play; there's tingling and vibration; there is a sense of sometimes weight, of heaviness, of resistance, as we breathe in maybe the top of the breath, there's a holding and resistance little bit as we breathe in. There are lifting sensations, expansion sensations, falling sensations, contracting sensations. There's a whole slew of sensations that come into play. And so the idea is to experience that.
It's like if you were tasting good food. Someone says, "This is really exquisite!" And, and maybe even you've spent, you know, your last, you know, not a money that you have on buying some tasty food, that you probably don't want to be distracted, to go on YouTube, or on the web to read the news avidly while you're eating this last wonderful morsel of good food you have. Probably you would really close your eyes maybe, and really taste it, savor it, and take it in. You would experience it.
And so that's what this word experiencing means. It contains within it the Pali word for feeling. And it also has that word "with feeling." There are three parts to the word. And it means "feeling with oneself," feeling in oneself here in this experience. Feel it carefully. And so we're talking about sensations.
And then the third part of this first step is whether it's long. If it's a long breath, experience it as a long breath. And so here, there's also a very simple recognition happening. One is recognizing some quality of the breathing - how it's experienced when it's being experienced as being a long breath. And this is partly a stand-in for feeling all the sensations of breathing. But it's also a means to begin noticing how breathing changes as we settle into the meditation.
Because the next step in ānāpānasati is: "One trains oneself, that as one breathes in a short breath, one experiences it as a short breath. One trains oneself as one breathes out a short breath, one experiences it as breathing out a short breath. And often, there's a movement that happens, a change that happens as we sit. Sometimes when the breath is fast and tight and, and agitated, there can be kind of a short, fast, rapid breathing going on. And as we relax, the breath settles down, and becomes longer and more relaxed. Sometimes when it is long and relaxed, as we get more concentrated, the breath becomes sometimes shorter, sometimes more shallow. It changes its nature.
And so regardless of which direction it changes, as we meditate, there are these changes that come on. I might be sitting in a very relaxed way with my breath. And, and then think about something that happened many years ago that really disturbed me or upset me. And I find my breathing changes. And so as we experience the breathing in a deeper and deeper way - more fully - then we start noticing it in different ways - that changing dynamic nature of all the sensations in the breathing. And the relationship between the state of our meditation state of our mind, and what's going on with our breathing.
And it's not analyzing or commenting, or getting deeply involved in needing it to be a certain way. It's just that, as we experienced breathing, we want to just be there and experience it more and more carefully - this sensory quality of breathing - feeling and sensing what happens in the body. So I often say, to experience how the body experiences breathing, which is pointing to this idea of really being in the sensations, the sensory quality of it. And letting the body take the lead. Meaning don't have your mind, take the lead, like the breathing should be a certain way. And I have to make it be a certain way. And it's the wrong breathing.
Trust the body. Let the body take the lead, and just show itself to you as it actually is. And then as you do this, there's this constancy of coming and going - constancy and inconstancy. Continuity and discontinuity of breathing, as I talked about beginning of the guided meditation. And to begin to take refuge in the constancy of breathing. But to allow the inconstancy of the comings and goings of the in-breath and out-breath help you to be relaxed. Help you not to fixate on something. Be ready to let go of the exhale. And that letting go of the exhale at the end allows you to take in the inhale.
This movement of allowing and receiving, letting go and taking in. And to keep that continuity going of feeling and sensing is the thread that will go through the 16 steps of ānāpānasati. And, and we're kind of breathing with our life with this foundation, this, this constancy, this basis of support.
So so you might today, in order to kind of enhance this path we're taking these weeks is to at different times of the day, check in with your breathing. And see what sensations are come into play, and how those sensations change. And what's the nature of your breathing? Is it short or long, shallow or deep? Are different parts of your body involved or activated in the breathing? Is there more chest breathing, now? More belly breathing now? Just get curious. No need to judge any of it. What you're trying to do is to develop a repertoire of recognition. A wider and wider way of becoming literate in the whole experience of breathing.
And as you do this, over time breathing becomes really rich - really valuable, really fascinating and interesting - and invaluable to connect to it. So spend your day, maybe, you know, set a little alarm every hour in the hour or something or something to see. Remind yourself to check in with your breathing. How is it right now? And the more you become aware of it, the more I think that this ānāpānasati will come alive for you.
So thank you very much and I look forward to our time tomorrow.