2021-01-25 Mindfulness of Breathing (17) Fifth Step: Well-being
5:04PM Jan 25, 2021
So continuing on this teaching on the Buddha's instructions for mindfulness of breathing. We now begin moving into what's called the second tetrad – the second group of four steps in this practice. And it clearly builds on the earlier steps. Whereas the first head tread is very much about the body – really being rooted and centered in your body – the second is now about becoming more attuned to some of the feelings we have as we sit and meditate.
So not just the sensations of the body, but also the feelings – what in English we can call feelings. And not quite emotions, but certainly inclusive of emotions. In particular, you start becoming aware of the the pleasant sensations, pleasant feelings, the feelings of well-being, which can well up.
You have to be very careful about this. We're not expected, every time we sit down to meditate, to have feelings of well-being, joy, happiness. It's unrealistic. And the first steps of ānāpānasati can be the foundation. I've benefited so much from when I haven't felt very happy, and maybe felt kind of challenged by something in my life, or upset, or disturbed in some way. I'll just sit and be very content – just breathe with it. Sit and breathe and settle. And let that natural settling, and connecting to the body, and just being in the body.
I just love composting the difficult emotions I have in my body. What that means is to feel the difficulty, to recognize that what I'm feeling is difficult. And then feel how it is in the body. If there's anger, feel how is expressed in the body. If it's sadness, how it's expressed in the body. And just come back, and let the body compost it. Let the body feel it and process it. And it's a way of kind of a little bit getting out of the way, in the sense that if I'm in my thoughts and stories, I'm kind of just churning, spinning, and reinforcing it. But allowing the body.
The body is not just a physical body. The body is intimately connected to the mind, the heart, and how things get processed. We have amazing processing capacity, if we allow it. And so just feel the difficulty. Just breathe with it, be with it, and feel it. Breathe. Breathe – nothing more. And at times, there won't be any particularly difficult emotions, or painful sensations – or as we abide in these, they might not hurt anymore.
We're just sitting here. And at some point, the system – we're soft enough, relaxed enough, centered enough, in the present moment enough – that we start feeling feelings of well-being. And that's when this second tetrad kicks in. We only start becoming aware of this next tetrad when we start feeling some beginnings of good feelings in the body. And they can be a variety of good feelings: calm, settledness, holistic, present with it all, inclusive. There might be feelings of joy, delight, and happiness that come or well up from the inside.
And, and it can be quite sometimes these can develop it becomes quite strong. Some people will use the word ecstasy, when the feelings are strong, but it's probably not the best word. Some people have pointed out that ecstasy means kind of being outside of oneself. Whereas in Buddhist meditation, it's more of an 'intasy.' It's more like being in ourselves. It's something that wells up from the inside. And we're really present. That's why the beginning, the first tetrad, is really to be grounded and rooted here. And really do that over and over again. so that it's second nature. It's like really comfortable and at ease here in this body. And we're preparing the body to be the receptacle for meditative well-being, which is physical in nature. It wells up from the inside.
This idea of welling up from the inside is captured or expressed in a metaphor the Buddho uses. And that is a lake – a mountain lake maybe – where there are no streams bringing water into the lake. There's no rain bringing water into the lake. But rather, there is an underwater spring, a fount, that flows of water into the lake. And that's where the lake gets refreshed is from this underground spring that's within the lake. At the bottom of the lake, flowing into the lake – and up from the inside out. So there's no water coming from the outside in a sense.
So this is a sense of well-being that is not dependent on getting what you want in life – win a lottery, or get a present or have a nice experience, or have some tasty food, or the weather is just right for me. For many people, their idea of happiness comes from success, and getting what they want in the world. In meditation, we give up kind of wanting and having our happiness depend on getting what we want in the world. And there's a settling and relaxing and deepening here. So that rather than getting something that makes us happy, something external, or some reward system, where we get something and therefore we feel happy – there is a very different kind of well-being that begins welling up from the inside out, that has nothing to do with getting anything, our wishes. I mean, it could be a wish to feel that which we kind of get our wish, then. But it's, it's something internal, and is not dependent on anything in the world being just right, or being any particular way. And it's very empowering, or very relieving, to experience this, because then we have access to a sense of happiness, well-being, contentment, and calm – just really feeling good in ourselves, which doesn't require anything from the world around us.
In fact, sometimes we sit and meditate, and there might be uncomfortable sounds of things happening in the environment. But we're no longer connected to that, or concerned with that. And it makes space for this inner thing to begin welling up. And so it certainly requires letting go of a lot of thinking about the world – thinking about what we want, and what we don't want, and navigating the whole world of stories and ideas about all these things. Because all those express a kind of dependency on the world being a particular way.
Of course, we should correct the world, fix the world, clean up the world, and take care of the world – at times. But it's okay not to do that when we're meditating. Meditating is a time when we can put all that aside – so that we can let the yeast of meditation begin to bubble, percolate, expand, and grow.
And and so the first tetrad is making ourselves a receptacle that can receive and allow. And when, when the feelings of well-being arise, then the instructions are to experience that well-being. And here, the particular word for the fifth step is joy. And, and but sometimes joy is a little bit too high a bar or a little bit too, kind of particular word that people struggle with to try to where I feel that joy, what is it. So I kind of prefer the word well-being initially.
I sense well-being. A sense of good calm can be a sense of well-being – a sense of appreciation, valuing coziness, intimacy, being present here. And now this sense of well-being can be there for a number of reasons. But in the practice of ānāpānasati, that particular kind of well-being that really becomes more salient is one that comes with a certain concentration on the breathing. A certain intimacy with the breath, a certain rapport with the breathing. It isn't the breathing itself. And people wonder, "Why should I still be with the breathing? Breathing is a boring thing."
Breathing is not a physical thing. It's something which is somehow intimately connected to the mind, the heart, the emotional patterns we have. And it's a very rich kind of nexus of all these different crossroads of our inner life, which meet at the breathing. And so, and one of the things that happens is as we get closer and closer to just cruising with the breath, riding the waves of breath, or just staying connected to breathing, we start getting concentrated. And that concentration begins shifting the nature of the breathing and the feelings, the sensations there. There's a there's an intermingling, or a way in which the well-being of being concentrated infuses the breath with a certain kind of pleasure. And that pleasure encourages the mind, or cultivates the mind to be more focused on on breathing.
So there's this kind of like a little bit like the analogy, I like to use a stroking the cat. As long as you're stroking the cat, the cat purrs. But if you take your hand away, it stops purring. And so as long as we stay connected to the breathing in a concentrated way, a relaxed way, soft way, melting away, just breathing in and breathing out – at some point – and it might be some point further down the line – there starts to be a biofeedback system in place, where the very way in which we're concentrating, or staying grounded, or sort of stroking the breath, or being being stroked by the breath, starts to kind of give birth to a certain kind of well-being.
So it's very important – I'll say it again: don't be in a hurry for this to happen. Be content with the first tetrad. But when it does happen, then recognize it. And here, in the Buddh's instructions, at this point, you're allowed to feel well-being. You're taught to feel the joy, the delight, or the goodness that comes. There might be a lot of other feelings. There might be feelings of pain, discomfort, or even emotional discomfort – but there's something more encompassing – an inclusive awareness that comes along with a sense of contentment, calm, joy, or appreciation that holds all that.
And so we're beginning to get a sense of presence, attention, and well-being that is not dependent on the details of our life. And this is revolutionary – to begin to realize you can feel sad, or angry, or feel pain – and you can have a sense of well-being, which is bigger than that. And it begins shifting the focus and preoccupation from the details of this anger, this resentment, this desire as being the locus of what we have to focus on – to leaving those things alone, and focusing on something that is more encompassing – such as calmness, ease, joy, delight.
It's possible that that you don't quite understand what I'm saying. And that's okay. Don't be too concerned about it. But over these next days, we'll kind of begin easing into this area of the fourth tetrad and, and maybe maybe you'll have an intuition or use your imagination to follow along. Or maybe you'll have some experience in your life that you can relate to what we're talking about.
And you'll learn these steps. And over time, you'll learn when they're relevant for you, and when you can follow along with them. And, and when it's the right time, you can move into this on your own.
So in the next days, we'll look at the well-being, joy, and happiness in meditation. And I'm certainly happy and delighted to share this with you. And, and and hopefully a little bit of my joy will be contagious. And we'll support you as we go into these next steps of mindfulness or breathing. Thank you.