2021-01-27 Mindfulness of Breathing (19) Meditative Joy and Happiness
5:18PM Jan 27, 2021
So continuing on the 16 steps of breathing meditation that the Buddha taught. It comes from a variety of places in the discourses of the Buddha. The most common one is a text called the "Discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing," the Ānāpānasati Sutta. And it's in a collection called the Middle Length Discourses. And there's been a variety of books that are, you know, explaining this or describing this. The descriptions of the 16 steps are really just like Cliff Notes – brief sentences.
And different meditation teachers will have a different take or explanation of how these work or what they are, which is appropriate. There are many techniques, and they are like little placeholders for a whole universe of experience.
So we're coming into the fifth and sixth steps of ānāpānasati. And it's, the fifth one says, "One trains." In other words, one practices. Like one practices the alphabet to really learn it – one does it over and over again: "One trains so that, as one is breathing in, one experiences joy. One trains so that, as one breathes out, one experiences of joy."
And then the sixth step is: "Breathing in one experiences happiness. Breathing out one experiences happiness." And the so these words for joy and happiness, some people will translate, like the famous translator, Bhikkhu Bodhi, translates as rapture for joy. And for what I translated as happiness, he translates as pleasure.
And, and the difference between these two steps is that whatever this joy factor is, it's something a little bit energizing. It can be quite strong, but it's something that's a little bit more like a thrill in the body, a delight. It's a flow of energy, or flow of pleasure in the body, which is kind of uplifting and delightful. It has a lightning feeling.
And, and then the next one, what I call happiness, and he calls pleasure, is when the energetics of joy quiet down, the the pleasure of the joy, the happiness of the joy remains – something more settled. Something that has more a sense of contentment.
Some people get quite attached to the energetics of joy. And sometimes a feeling of ecstasy and rapture – very strong – can course through our body – cascading waves of joy. It can be quite intense. And but sooner or later, people get a little tired of the energetics of it.
And then the upwelling energy of it begins to settle and quiet. And now there's kind of a state shift. And, and that and, and in retrospect, we see that the joy has a kind of mental quality, mental energetics. But then it settles. And then we're more settled in the body, and then there is more of a feeling of contentment in the body, well-being in the body, tranquility in the body – which, for me, feels like a very sublime kind of happiness. But because it's more physical, some translators like to translate it as pleasure. And because it doesn't have that mental energy as well.
And, and so and the operating verb is is one 'experiences.' You could just as well translate the Pali word here, "One feels ." One allows oneself to really feel what is there. Elsewhere, the Buddha says that when this kind of pleasure or joy begins to surface, one is allowed to feel it in such a way that one allows it to spread through the body.
And as I said yesterday, the Buddha said this kind of pleasure or joy Is, is not to be feared. And it's not to be kind of dismissed or belittled. It's actually quite a healthy thing to experience it. For some people, when they feel it and it's very healing, it creates a context in the body and the heart – in order to better be present for what is difficult. It's not a denial of what's difficult and painful in our lives – difficult emotions, or what's happening in the world around us.
But it's easier to be present for it with without falling into being a victim of it – or being oppressed by it. Or being, you know, suffering ourselves even more by it. Or feeling self-pity – because we have this goodness, this joy, happiness, well-being in which to hold the challenges of our lives.
This joy, this well-being, which comes in this step, comes a lot from really starting to be absorbed, or really intimate continuously with the experience of breathing. It also comes when there's more sense of wholeness. Everything is included – nothing is held at bay.
And so the earlier steps – the steps of the body – have to do with really feeling the body and relaxing the body. When the body is tense, the body is in a certain way, not whole. So we're kind of cut off from parts of it in this kind of way. But as we feel the body and relax the body, there's a feeling of wholeness – of gathering together. And that gathering together and becoming whole is what contributes to the joy arising. It's kind of like we're creating the channels, the openings for this well-being to be there – which can come when we start becoming really intimate, connected, or continuous in the attention.
And so the awareness itself gets gathered together to really be in the present moment, with the breathing – as opposed to the thoughts jumping around here and there. About what's for dinner, and what I'm doing tomorrow, and what I did yesterday or something. The the mind begins to have wholeness. The mind also begins to gather around. Just this experience here that mind itself now centers itself, on the experience of the body just breathing. And this centering itself in the body breathing has the the joy, the delight. The problems of our life, the preoccupations, agitations, and anxieties that are that are fed by thoughts, and perpetuated by thoughts, begin to quiet down. And that is a relief to have.
And then the combination of the mind's intimacy, the awareness's intimacy with the whole experience of breathing, and the wholeness of the body – it then tends to start producing, from the inside out, a sense of goodness, which is my kind of generic name for a whole whole class or family of things we might feel: joy, delight, satisfaction, contentment, pleasure, thrill – wonderful feelings that come. And, and they come for no good reason. For what's outside in the world, nothing has to be better in the world. It just comes because of this really intimate gathering together – harmonizing, of our whole being – which can come when we're really present here.
So the first four steps of ānāpānasati – which can take a long time to really do – have a lot to do with really finding ourselves present here in a whole, embodied, inclusive way. It's not a narrow, tight, little concentration – but rather a centering, where everything's included and everything is centered.
An image I have for it is a big bowl, and if you take a marble and drop it into this big bowl, it'll go up and down and around. And if you lean into the bowl and push the marble, you can keep it going. It just keep spinning forever if you keep pushing it. But if we stop pushing it, slowly it'll come to center at the bottom of the bowl. The whole bowl is there, but it's resting at the center. So the same thing with our attention, our thoughts, our awareness. They will keep spinning if we are pushing the marbles in our mind with our thoughts, our involvement, our interest, our reactivity. And the thinking mind just spins, and goes, and gets distracted. But as we leave it alone, then everything begins to settle – gather together. And we support it with our practice of intimacy and getting close to breathing. And, and, and then with time, we find we get centered at the bottom of the bowl – centered on the breathing.
And this starts becoming a very pleasant experience. And very enjoyable. And the joy factors begin bubbling up within. And the Buddha's description of this is, I think I said it recently is that of an underwater spring, flowing up into a lake. And it just flows up from the inside and spreads out. And sometimes you can feel that with the inhale. It's almost like there's an underwater spring, deep in our torso, right down near the base of our body, or the base of our chest or something. And as we breathe in, there's an upwelling feeling. And then as we exhale, perhaps there's a feeling of it flowing all back down again, and flowing out. This flow happening. Or this pleasure, energetics, lightness.
It can be quite subtle, when it begins happening. And it's good to recognize it and realize, "Oh, this is actually a good thing to pay attention to." Don't look for it when it's not there. Don't try to manufacture it. And don't feel like you have to have it, this fifth or sixth step of ānāpānasati. Only sometimes it begins to start happening.
The core practice is the first four. And this is so beneficial to stay in the first four for a long time. And essentially, the longer we stay with the first four, the stronger foundation we allow ourselves to have for what follows.
But unless you learn about this potential for joy and pleasure as part of the meditation practice, then you might not appreciate or recognize it when it's happens. And you won't include it, or become whole with it. And let it spread and open – and receive it through your body. All of this requires some modicum of a quiet mind. It doesn't have to be completely quiet. There can be some thoughts in the background, or light thoughts. So don't be at war with your thoughts and think you have to not think at all. That just produces tension. But there is a quieting that happens as we practice.
So mindfulness of breathing, and I hope that you'll have some opportunities through the day and through meditation, to appreciate, value, and enjoy yourself breathing.