2021-01-08 Mindfulness of Breathing (5): Receptive Awareness
3:58PM Jan 8, 2021
Now in this fifth talk for mindfulness of breathing, we're going to go through the 16 steps. The Buddha has progressive steps of deepening, or fulfilling the possibilities of mindfulness of breathing, breath meditation. And in laying out these 16 steps, the Buddha didn't give any indication that there are going to be problems in doing this. He's just laying out the landmarks of how - when the practice progresses - how it progresses, how it deepens, or becomes fuller.
But of course, there are going to be challenges. And, and so working with those challenges is part of the practice of mindfulness of breathing. And one of the first challenges for many of us is to just arrive in the present moment - to really be established here. Because the mind has a mind of its own. It wanders off so easily, and drifts off, and gets preoccupied in things. And then we lose a kind of intimacy and groundedness in the present moment.
Sometimes the mind is really strong and pulls it off a lot. And it just takes a lot of - for me, I call it - "manual labor" to come back to the breath. Okay, I'm gonna be in the present moment. And the breathing has the benefit that it's always in the present moment. It's always this reoccurring rhythm of things that are happening, sensations in the body. So it's always available as a place to ground ourselves in the present moment, as the whole body is as well.
And so if you're with your breathing, you're in the present moment. Without having to think and analyze, and figure out where attention is supposed to be, the idea is to have a default: "Oh, I'll be in the present moment here with this."
And the same thing with where you pay attention to breathing. It's helpful if you have a default place that's your your home. I call it the home base. And for me, it's often the belly. But sometimes it switches to the chest. Very occasionally, it's in the nostrils for me. But it can be any of those places. And sometimes for me, it feels like a bellows - like a whole. The whole body is kind of the the place.
But unless I've switched, the default for me is the belly - just feeling the movements of the belly as I practice. And, and sometimes it just feels like manual labor to do it. I just come back, come back, come back, and remind myself. And I don't have a lot of success in staying there. But I just come back, come back. And then eventually, the energy of thinking, of being distracted begins to quiet down - begins to abate. Partly because I'm not feeding it anymore. I'm actually feeding being with the breathing.
And at some point, there's a switch. And sometimes I don't see when that switch happens: "Okay, now I'm established. Now I'm much more here, and present, and I can stay here." And that switch to really being present can be progressive, like little quantum leaps. We're somewhat present, and a little bit more present, and even more present, until it really feels like we're really well established here. And the mind has very little tendency to wander off.
And sometimes the mind begins to wander off. And you're right there, and so alert and present - you notice the mind beginning to wander off. And you just have a noticing of it. It's almost like there's a rubber band attached to your thoughts. And as they get too stretched, everything comes back into the present, back in here.
So what we're working with is trying to develop his capacity to be present. And it takes a lot of repetition. There's a tremendous amount of repetition - coming back, starting over, starting over and over. And one of the real keys to making this repetition work, and take off for us, is if the way we start over again is a pleasant way of doing it. So the mind wanders off. It's very easy to be upset with oneself, or be aversive to it and then jerk the mind back, pounce back on the breath. But there should be no pouncing and no jerking - nothing violent. It all can be relaxed.
Clearly definitively, we begin again. I like the expression "begin again." Because the expression, "come back to the breath" is almost like we have to move and do something. But to begin again, it's like there's no movement. Just, "Oh, here I am." And we'll start again.
And so the, to begin again, to begin again, and to do that in a pleasant way, or relaxed way, a way that you enjoy doing it. You start with time, and enjoy it more than you enjoy wandering off into thought.
So it's like a pleasant thing and delightful thing to come back and be here. So that also it takes some practice and some experimenting. How do I show up here? And then once you're with the breathing, there is a time and season for every way of being in meditation. So there's not just one way.
The idea that we're supposed to have a laser focus, and hold on tight, and strain to be with the breath for it to be in the present moment, is usually counterproductive. And more often than not, it's maybe more useful to be receptive, to be open, allowing to receive the breath.
But to do it not too casually. We don't want to be relaxed and complacent, or be relaxed and lackadaisical. The idea, the art of it is to be both relaxed, at ease, receptive - and have a sense of commitment to it. To be present. And then really, like, "This is what I want to do, I'm established here."
And so the language of the Buddha to have awareness established. Established so it can be receptive. And receptive so it can be established. This is all to say that how we're aware is part of the practice of mindfulness of breathing.
And it's not just about being with the breath. It's how we're with the breath. And this interface between awareness and breathing is something we're cultivating and developing, working with.
The place where we can adjust the most is how we're aware. And, and so we're learning to monitor the nature of attention - the nature of how we're doing the meditation. So the how we do it is pleasant, enjoyable, useful. It's the how that we're in it for the long term. And if the how we're meditating is somehow unpleasant, harsh, judgmental, self-critical, or straining - it probably is not going to be very satisfying in the long term.
So to settle in here to the breathing. Then, of course, there are going to be a lot of things that are gonna be challenging - there could be strong emotions, strong sensations, the body in pain, strong bouts of thinking going on, loud noises around us. And when in the meditation practice, mindfulness is really founded on and based in breathing - that's the foundation for it.
Then one of the things we can do is acknowledge these other things that are happening, but breathe with them, or breathe through them. So we're certainly attending to them, knowing they're there, and developing the practice with mindfulness there. But rather than being focused only on that, we're also aware of the breathing, breathing through it or breathing with it.
So for example, there might be strong knee pain. And if you just bring your attention to the pain itself - which is one of the instructions of mindfulness - and you just hold your attention there to be with the pain for however long it's compelling. It's easy because the pain is little bit constant, and just there in a strong way. It's a little hard for the mind to not get caught, or strain, or tight itself with it, or slip off too easily. But if you can feel the pain in the knee, and then breathe through it, or breathe with it, then the breathing kind of massages the mind. It's gently like stroking it, staying there, staying there, feeling it, and being with it.
There's something about breathing with pain, or breathing through it, that sometimes maybe relaxes the micro-muscles around it. Or maybe it encourages the blood flow in the area. But often it seems to change our relationship to it, and tends to make it feel a lot more manageable and easier to breathe with.
But for people practicing mindfulness of breathing, it's also a way of developing more continuity with the breath. Making it a habit to be with a breath. The breath is always here. So when there are difficulties, emotional difficulties, breathe with them; breathe through them. Whatever is going on. We're trying to develop this capacity to be regularly in touch with breathing so that it is kind of a habit - it's a more like second nature.
So as you go about your day, one option you have is to begin tuning into that you're breathing and daily life. And make it more of a habit throughout the day to check in with your breath, to be with your breathing. And maybe there are all kinds of small ways in daily life where it's easy to do. If you're driving, and you come to a traffic light, be with your breathing little bit - check in. If you're standing in line in a store, check in to your breathing rather than reading the magazines that might be there. If you have some time to wait, check in with your breathing. And notice how your breathing shifts and changes - how it's being held, how its contracted or tight, how free it is, and how loose it is.
There are multiple benefits with mindfulness of breathing. And the more you do it, the more those benefits will come your way. So establishing mindfulness here and now. And then becoming aware of the sensations of breathing, the experience of breathing as it comes and goes, and comes and goes. This is the beginning of the 16 steps of anapanasati.
So thank you and I look forward to continuing this on Monday.