2021-01-18 Mindfulness of Breathing (12) Relaxation and the Fourth Step
5:17PM Jan 18, 2021
So as we continue through the Buddha's teachings on mindfulness of breathing, today, I want to introduce the fourth step of the first tetrad of this, this 16 steps of ānāpānasati – 16 steps of breathing in mindfully and breathing out mindfully. And this fourth step is that one trains oneself experiencing the whole body. One relaxes the whole body. One trains oneself to relax the whole body.
And so a few things about this – to relax or to calm. Many translations have the word tranquilize, "One tranquilizes the body." And, and now it's a little bit maybe unfortunate connotations in English of the word tranquilize. But calming, relaxing. And, and when it talks about relaxing the whole body, it doesn't really say it that way. It says, "One relaxes the bodily formations" – the bodily constructions, the ways in which the body has come into play, based on the activities of the mind.
So one relaxes the physical manifestations of our mental state, of mental activities. And certainly, we can feel that in breathing. We get excited, and the breathing gets maybe more shallow – or more chest breathing, rather than belly breathing – or faster. And then we relax more. We're not so excited. We calm down, and the breathing shifts and changes. The excitement that we feel in the breathing, that's expressed in the breathing, is called in Buddhism, "bodily formation." The word formation or construction, is what's been created, and what's come into play, by the state of the mind that we have.
And much of what we experience, day to day in our bodies, is surprisingly, a manifestation of something about how the mind is. That the state of the mind, the quality of the mind, activities of the mind, the preferences of the mind, the selection process of the mind – whatever the mind is involved in – has a big impact on how we experience our body, and how the body is activated.
So this activation of the body is what we then relax. So. So this is a very nice part of this mindfulness of breathing practice, where we have some agency. We have some involvement in where we relax, soften, or actively, you know, tranquilize – calm the body down. And, as you know, I often teach that at the beginning of a meditation: to feel the breathing. And then with the exhale, relax the body. And this is kind of an expression of this aspect of these instructions of the Buddha.
But in his classic instructions, this relaxing the body is step four. And I interpret that to mean, "Don't be in a hurry to get too actively involved in relaxing the tensions, the activities of the body. Take your time with it."
A lot of the relaxing that comes with meditation, just comes from sitting still, and being quiet, getting concentrated, and letting go of your thoughts. And the body itself settles down and gets calm. You don't have to be the doer of it so much.
In fact, to be too much the doer – the one who's making it happen and responsible for it – can actually lead to tension itself. And also, it's kind of a dead end for the purpose of meditation. To really be able to go deep into meditation, we have to learn also how to relax the agency – relax the the doer – the one who wants it differently, and tries to make something different happen, and fixing things. It's best not try to fix anything in meditation. But rather just be with things, and breathe with things.
So the Buddha's instructions on relaxing the body – the bodily activity formations – is number four, four step. And it's really good to take your time with the first steps. So take the time with just recognizing the experience of breathing. What are the sensations there? If it's a long breath, note it's a long breath. If a short breath short. All the different ways in which breathing is experienced.
And then after we do that – partly so we get concentrated, and feel like we're more in the flow of the present moment. Then to open up the awareness to experience more fully, the experience – more globally – the experience of breathing. And the first global, wider experience of breathing is the full breath body – the full experience of breathing.
It can be the full experience of breathing through time, really kind of staying a continuity of just staying one in breath. The next out breath in breath and just staying and staying.
The other fullness is throughout the breath body, the full range of ways in which breathing impacts the body, affects the body. And to feel that rhythm or that impact and effect in the body: in the whole ribcage back and front, the shoulders, the belly – wherever it might be that you feel it. Or the radiance from that. Sometimes there's a glow, or radiant sort of warmth, or tingling or vibration or something that seems to kind of spread beyond the normal boundaries of what we experienced as breathing. And we started feeling this wider kind of glow of, of goodness or pleasure that might be there.
And another meaning of this feeling of the whole body, the global body, is to feel the wider context of the whole more or less physical body that we have. And, and breathe, feeling all that. Or if there are particular parts of your body that have strong sensations unconnected to breathing, stay with your breathing, but breathe with those strong sensations. If your knee hurts, breathe with the pain in your knee. Accompany it with your breathing. Breathe through it.
So all this getting to know your breathing, the sensations of it deeper and deeper. Learning to kind of open the, the awareness up over time, support the natural global awareness. This tends to come as we get more focused.
And after doing that for quite some time, then at some point, we might be ready to do the fourth step, which is a much deeper letting go. Now, there's not so much the self involved perhaps. Not so much trying to escape discomfort, or trying to make ourselves better, or all kinds of self-centered ways, or self-preoccupied ways in which we're practicing.
We start feeling rather, because we feel deeply – we feel the natural movement of the body to relax. It's the it's the body's deepest request. It's the body's request to, to be at peace, to be peaceful, to be calm – not always having to carry your tensions, live with all the tensions of life, and daily life concerns, fears, anxieties, desires, or hostilities. All these things that we carry in our body. The body wants to have a break. The direction, directionality of the body is towards release. Towards relaxing, being settled, and calm. Then the body settles by itself.
It's remarkable to be with someone who has just died. And you can sometimes see their faces completely relaxed, in a way that they weren't when they were alive. Because their face carried so much of the tension of daily life unconsciously. Maybe not so obviously until you see: "Oh, that's what the relaxed face is like."
And so the direction the body wants to go: towards relaxation – not holding on tight. And and we can feel that – I call it longing, or request. Or we can feel the possibility contained in the body, it wants to relax. It wants to settle.
And so we want to wait. We don't always want to be relaxing in meditation. We want to do that basic breath meditation, staying with the breath, feeling the body, settling in, and letting the mind become quieter and quieter. And with that quiet mind, and this you know, somewhat settled body, you might then feel something subtle, something quiet, something that's a little whisper in your body in a sense. That is the potential, the movement, the edge where the body wants to settle even more – relax. And then really let go – soften. As you exhale, let go, let go, let go. And, and, and it's really a wonderful thing when deep, deep release happens in your body.
So we'll spend a couple of days on this relaxing and releasing of the body on the fourth step of ānāpānasati. And it continues to be part of the, of the whole aspect of mindfulness of breathing that is really centered on the body. Really getting to know the body deeper and deeper, and well – and learn to read, sense, feel the body.
So in these days that we're still kind of really centered on the body, I'd encourage you, maybe in the next 24 hours, to spend more time feeling your body – becoming intimate with your body, the sensations of your body, the postural positions your body is in. Your breathing in your body. Just kind of make it a full study, appreciation, and valuing of your body, and what's going on.
And maybe operate at the speed of mindfulness of the body. Be be a little bit careful you don't spend too much of the day with the mind going faster than your ability to stay grounded in your body. And see what that's like. See what is evoked for you in that context.
So thank you very much, and I have one announcement. And many of you know we have this website called Audio Dharma, which is completely run by volunteers. And various iterations of it over the last 16, 17 years or so, have been built on platforms that IMC volunteers and support people have kind of built for us and put into place. It's getting to be a little bit antiquated, and not really up to date. And some people say it constantly needs to be be maintained. And also so the whole thing doesn't collapse. And so a whole new crew of volunteers have been putting a lot of time into creating a new Audio Dharma platform to do all the things to store all these talks of ours. And they have a beta version. They would love to have some people, users, try it out. And then evaluate it, and help us understand how to make it even better and more functional for everyone. And if any of you would like to be part of that, at the top of this chat, probably at the end of the chat, and also if you're on YouTube itself. underneath the video, where it says some information about IMC, it says "Audio Dhamma user survey" near the green bodhi leaf, with a link to Survey Monkey, where the survey is. The survey is also an IMC's homepage in the "What's New" section in the bottom right hand side of the page. There's a "Reflections from Gil" section, and I put it there as well, the link. So anybody who would like to spend time with that, it would be appreciated, and would be helpful as we you know, keep developing this website, which has been so meaningful for so many people. Thank you all very much.