2021-01-21 Mindfulness of Breathing (15) Supported by Pleasure
4:51PM Jan 21, 2021
So, continuing with the practice, talking about the practice of mindfulness of breathing, there's a variety of stepping stones that we're crossing and developing on this path of mindfulness of breathing. One of them is to really be present in our experience as it actually is. To have a higher quality, clarity, of presence, of attention, where the mind, the attention, thoughts are not wandering off away from the present. But we're really at rest, or at ease, or established here.
To do that, what's helpful is developing concentration. To develop concentration, it's helpful to cultivate happiness. To develop happiness, it's helpful to cultivate tranquility. To cultivate tranquility, it's helpful to relax. To relax, but not to become completely limp. But to become kind of dignified and upright – here, really present, and relaxed.
We can ride the edge of that – sometimes too relaxed, sometimes too alert. But kind of, we're kind of operating there kind of finding where that balance is for us. And, and so one of the things to notice as we relax, as we calm the bodily formations – the fourth step of ānāpānasati – is to notice the pleasure of that, or the what's pleasing about that. Or what well-being that comes from that.
And, and exactly what the right word is, is a little bit you know, maybe, very personal. But some of the good feelings that can come from being with a breathing, settling in the present moment, and letting there be a growing tranquility, ease, relaxation.
One of the one of the means or stepping stones to that pleasure is to allow yourself to feel the goodness – feel the positive feelings that come from being calm, tranquil – from relaxing. And feeling the good feelings of this can be just a singular moment of relaxing muscular tension, softening in the shoulders. Rather than having the mind race off to the next important thing to think about now that they're relaxed, linger a little bit in that relaxation, and feel the goodness of it. Feel the pleasure of it, or the the good feeling, or the ease, or lightening, or whatever it might be. Feel that positive feeling there.
As you settle in meditation, and your mind is not so agitated and caught up in thoughts, allow yourself to feel, in the present moment, the goodness of that – how that feels pleasant, the pleasure of it, the positive feelings, the satisfaction of it. Not so much that you're evaluating it as satisfactory. But whatever the felt sense, the embodied feelings: "Ahh! That's good. This is so much better." So you begin opening your nerves, in your muscles, in your skin, to really take in the feeling of well-being, or of positive feelings there might be.
The third step of ānāpānasati – the third step of the first tetrad – is breathing in experiencing the whole body, breathing out experiencing the whole body. One of the benefits from beginning to expand the attention to really feel kind of globally, the experience of breathing – or to globally experience the breath is that it gives you a larger capacity to feel pleasure – to feel the goodness, or feel the positive feeling that comes with getting settled, calm, tranquil, relaxing further and further. And this kind of increasing our capacity to feel pleasure, capacity to feel well-being, is one of the stepping stones – one of the things we're cultivating here in this practice.
So we're doing developing a greater focus and familiarity with breathing, getting to know the breathing more. Coming back from the wandering mind. Coming back here. And then feeling more fully what's here, the global body, and then relaxing the bodily activity – settling it. And all along, it's helpful to keep letting go of the thoughts that take us away. But because some sense of well-being is so important, some sense of healthy pleasure is so important for this process – you also want to be very careful, if you can, not to make it unpleasant. Not to have an unpleasant reaction to your mind wandering off. Not to jerk your mind back to the breathing. Or be in a hurry, as if it was an unpleasant duty – or feeling like you're being reprimanded, or you did something wrong. Or you come back here, and sit in the corner of the room and, and just look at your breathing.
But rather, to kind of look and see how you can come back to the present moment, come back to your breathing, and how you can stay there with a mindset, an orientation in the mind that just enjoys the whole thing. That when you notice that when your mind wanders off, you appreciate noticing it. "Oh, this is wise. This is good – to know that I'm drifting off in thought and lost – is a really good thing. How lucky I am! I've seen it!"
If you have enough ability to criticize yourself, reproach yourself for wandering off in thought, you have all the attention you need to be present. Because a certain kind of being present is there when you notice you're wandering off. And so rather than reproaching yourself, you can congratulate yourself, "Oh, look, I woke up. Great! I noticed I was thinking." And so there's a little bit more of an uplifting feeling rather than discouraging feeling. Even if it's 10,000 times in a sitting.
And then to welcome the mind back to the breathing, float the mind back to the breathing, invite the breathing back into the attention. In that transition from having been lost in thought to beginning again with the breathing – can you find a way to do that in a way that's enjoyable for you? You're kind of happy to do it. You feel lucky, fortunate. "Wow. I get to use my attention in a way that really welcomes me back to breathing. Or is welcomed by the breathing. Or I can move slowly. I can feel that I have some efficacy, some agency. And I can use that to kind of gently, lovingly establish myself with the breathing."
So maybe the general idea of what I'm saying here is understandable. How you do it is really up to you – to experiment and find a way that's appropriate for you. A way that for you, gives you a sense of enjoyment, well-being, in the engagement with it.
And, and so we're allowed in meditation, to feel pleasure. We're allowed to enjoy. We're allowed to feel the joy and the happiness that can be there, the well-being. The art of that is to do so without clinging. And without spending a lot of time savoring it, or really working it, and holding on to it, and luxuriating in it in whatever way. There is a kind of matter-of-fact-ness, or simplicity, in which we want to relate to the pleasures and the well-being that comes with meditation. But we also want to experience it.
It's a tremendous support for staying in the present moment because the mind is more likely to want to stay in the present moment if it's tuning into what's enjoyable. It doesn't want to be in the present very much if mostly what we're aware of is unpleasant.
So this middle way that allows us to experience the well-being, but we don't cling to it. We don't pump it up. We don't try to make too much out of it. Just enough. Just enough so that it keeps us in the present moment, keeps us going. So breathing, pleasure, well-being.
And then as we get ready for today, as we end this little session together, I'd like to suggest that most of us don't avail ourselves of muc of the well-being, the pleasure that's really here. The small pleasures, a small sense of well-being – we don't kind of take the time to notice or to appreciate.
Maybe there's some way that you can take the time through the day to appreciate the small pleasures, the small satisfactions, the small senses of well-being, the small delights. You might start noticing that there is much more available than you usually spend your time enjoying, because you're caught up in projects, and doing, and thoughts, and all kinds of things.
Take time to feel that, so that you're beginning to feel more comfortable staying in the present moment with your experience. And in doing so, maybe your life will become richer, not poorer. Maybe a poor life is one that spends too much time thinking about things.
So, thank you for today. And I hope you explore this area of pleasure and enjoyment and well-being because this becomes a theme as we continue down the next steps of ānāpānasati. So spend some time familiarizing yourself with these things, with your attitude towards them – or your avoidance of them – or whatever you do. They set the stage for the next steps of ānāpānasati.