2021-02-22 Mindfulness of Breathing (38) Experiencing the Mind
5:13PM Feb 22, 2021
We're beginning now with the ninth step of ānāpānasati, mindfulness of breathing in and mindfulness of breathing out. The ninth step builds on what was earlier. Some teachers who teach ānāpānasati, this practice of 16 steps, will insist that you should always begin with step one and systematically work your way through all the steps as far as you've gone. There's some advantages to that. Some people's minds really like having order and clear, definitive steps. The mind gets organized, focused, and concentrated, knowing what it's doing step-by-step.
Other people find that it ties them in knots to do that. They trip over themselves. It's too much trying, too much expectation. Some people find that it's good to be familiar with all the steps. Then as we sit and meditate, discover where we are, where the salient step is. Sometimes we can start on step five, step eight, or even step nine, any of these steps, because we sit down, and that's what's available. Sometimes we move up and down in the course of a meditation.
These steps can be done linearly for those who find it beneficial. They can be more a resource for those people who want to track themselves and understand the domain, the territory of what's happening in their meditation at any one time, what the emphasis is.
We get to the nineth step. One way of appreciating this is, one way or the other, it's helpful that the earlier steps have been been familiar, been developed to some degree. That's because the more we're grounded in our body, and the body is relaxed, the more we begin opening up in a holistic way to our experience. We begin working through some of the knots, entanglements, tightness, and tensions we have.
To go to the second tetrad, steps five to eight, is to begin feeling, sensing the emotional tone of the body. If you're quite relaxed and focused, there is contentment and well-being. With that, it's easier to begin trusting that it's okay to relax the mental activity. We don't have to be so actively involved in fixing, solving, remembering, planning, criticizing, whatever the mind is doing. The activity of the mind can begin to rest. This resting, releasing, making the mental activity calmer, continues the process of becoming more holistic, being more inclusive, more open to our experience. Based on that, the experience of the mind becomes easier to experience.
Step nine is: "Breathing in one experiences the mind. Breathing out one experiences the mind."
I love the word 'experience.' The Pali word could be translated as "to feel the mind." It's not thinking about the mind. It's not having ideas about the mind. But rather it is something that is more holistic, more broad, and using the range of sensory apparatus we have to take in our inner life.
The mind is not the details of the inner life, not the particular activities. As I've said, the mind is just the sum total of its mental activities. But it's the way that we can somehow take in the totality of that, whatever way our mind – and I want to emphasize your mind – experiences the mood, the mental state, the overall configuration, or the balance of it all. That's what we call mind.
I say that because there are a lot of people who would like to have the mind be something in particular – to define it, to know what the mind is. I don't think that the emphasis in this Buddhist practice is to know in some abstract way what the mind is. That's a topic for some other occasion, some other purpose than meditation.
In meditation, we're only interested in how each of us experiences our mind. For some people, the word 'heart' is a better translation for 'citta.' Some people even translate it as "heart mind" – the state of the heart, the state of the mind, the quality of our inner life. It's the mood, the atmosphere. It's the sum total of how all this works.
Sometimes there's a predominant mood of the mind. The predominant mood can be one of desire, lust, or strong wanting. Everything is seen through the filter of this strong wanting. It's almost like the mind has an overall force, like, "Give me that."
We have a cat at home. I delight and am amazed to see the cat definitely has desires. It seems like everything – the whole catness – is focused on getting what it wants. It's clear that desire is there. So the mood of desire.
Mind may be like the overall disposition that we have. And sometimes it's not desire. You can feel the difference between a general mood characterized by desire and one that is not. Sometimes it's aversion, hostility, ill will. You can see it sometimes in people. There's almost a cloud of anger or hostility around them. That atmosphere could be experienced in the inside as well.
There can be the absence of ill will. There could be love. There can be confusion that characterizes it all. The mind is jumping around not knowing what it wants to do and doesn't understand. A lost feeling, which is the general tone of the mind.
There can be the absence of confusion. There may be clarity, wisdom. The overall mood of the mind state can be one of distractibility, jumping around, scatteredness. Or it could be one of being present and undistracted.
One of the great ones, which the tradition talks about, is one can know the mind is being expansive or large. Or one can know the mind is not being expansive, not being large.
This points to how as we develop this mindfulness, and as we develop a reflexive awareness of awareness itself, of the mind itself, that seems to change the mind. It's harder then to focus on only the things that we're thinking about or things we're aware of. Something begins happening when we're aware of awareness, aware of the mind that knows, or aware of the mind state. It's like if someone points out to you how dirty the windshield is in a car, then as you drive you're now aware of the windshield. You're not focusing on it, but you can't not see it anymore.
To become aware of the mind changes the mind. Because the mind is not a physical thing – the mind is kind of the sum total of the mental activities that are operating. One of the key mental activities is the knowing itself. If the mind is known, if we bring attention to the mind – and the attention is not for or against. The attention is not with expectations, demands, or criticism. It's just relaxed, equanimous, allowing awareness of the mind. That's a mental activity in itself, which then feeds back into the formation of the mind as a whole.
We are shaping our mind all the time. The brain may not change that much. But the mind is very flexible. The Buddha emphasized the mind is very, very changeable. It changes with all our moods, activities, and what's going on.
Mindfulness itself, meditation itself does have an effect on how we experience the mind. The instructions are: "Know the mind, or experience the mind, breathing in and breathing out." As we do that, everything we do with the mind feeds back onto shaping the mind, the experience of the mind we have.
We start being in a kind of loop or cycle where, as the meditation deepens, we're bringing more and more equanimity, openness, and receptivity to whatever our experience is, including that of the mind. That brings those qualities to the mind itself.
One of the reasons why in meditation practice we're trying to develop an equanimous mindfulness, which is not for or against experience – it's good in and of itself. But, as that gets stronger, it feeds back to reshape or reform the disposition of the mind, the quality of the mind, the state of the mind. So the mind itself begins feeling more receptive, soft, expansive. And all kinds of wonderful things we'll talk more about.
It might be difficult for some of you to follow what I'm saying. Maybe you can think about it as your mood, or the the feeling tone, the emotional tone of your inner life, of your mind, your heart. You can certainly be aware of it anytime at all. But to be aware of it after having meditated for some time. For example, more or less the first eight steps prepares the ground for mindfulness of the mind to have a wonderful feedback loop – to condition or open the mind in a deeper and deeper way that will allow for concentration to develop.
I'll talk more about the mind over the next couple of days. In the meantime, what you might do as you go about some of your daily tasks, maybe some of the common things you do, something that you may do regularly through the day, washing up, cooking, or driving, why don't you start noticing the mood with which you do it. Then really know the mood. Don't just check it off, "Oh, I'm annoyed at the exercise."
Really experience the mood. One way to make sure you've given enough time to experience the mood is to breathe with the mood. Take time to just breathe with it for a while and get to know it and start recognizing your mood. And start recognizing also how your mood shifts, as it is known, as you experience it, as you breathe with it, in daily life as you go through the day. Don't overlook the windshield by looking through what's on the other side.
Thank you all very much. This week, we're meeting at seven o'clock. Next Monday, we'll start at 6:45 for that week because I'll be on retreat again. It works really well connecting the two: the retreat practice and what we're doing on YouTube.
Thank you very much, and I look forward to tomorrow.