2021-02-17 Mindfulness of Breathing (34) Tranquility and Liberation
5:47PM Feb 17, 2021
These sixteen steps of mindfulness of breathing are organized in groups of four, called tetrads. In the last step of each tetrad, the instructions have to do with something in the family of letting go, freedom, release – whatever language you'd prefer. For step four it's: "calming the bodily formations." Sometimes, it's translated as 'tranquilizing.' I love the word 'tranquil,' but 'tranquilizing' is often associated with treating animals. So, it doesn't really evoke a positive response for me – the sense of bringing about tranquility in the body.
In the eighth step, the task is to calm, relax, tranquilize the mental formations, the mind. As we'll see in a while, in the twelfth step, it's freedom – releasing the mind, freeing the mind. Then, the final step of the sixteen steps is relinquishment. Maybe that's a big word that doesn't really inspire, but it involves a really qualitative and transformative experience of freedom, of liberation.
The movement toward greater and greater freedom begins with simply relaxing the body. It's beginning to learn the lesson of freedom. It's beginning to have a reference point for the goodness of not being tense, not being caught. And I think, for many people, it's a little more accessible – physical relaxation – than is full blown liberation. But we're beginning to get a little taste of it, an embodied taste of it.
Most people don't associate simple physical relaxation with Buddhist liberation. But liberation is kind of a matter-of-fact thing. The greater the liberation we have, the more it's seen as not such an unusual or otherworldly thing. It's just a profound experience of beginning to relax the body, beginning to experience physical tranquility.
Those of you who've been following along know that I give a lot of emphasis to relaxing at the beginning of meditation. Maybe 'relaxing' is a bit too limited a word to describe the sense of tranquility that can come as we continue more deeply into 'ānāpānasati.' But looking for tranquility, looking for the calmness or serenity that can exist in our practice, is said to be a support for greater tranquility. We're not making calmness or tranquility the be all and end all. But it's a wonderful foundation that begins to soften the hardness of the heart, the hardness of the mind.
When we're stuck and things don't move, tranquility begins to create a sense of inner safety. Things begin to release more and more. I like the word 'tranquility' more than the word 'calmness,' because the word 'calmness' can lend itself to the idea of becoming too calm – so calm that you fall asleep. The word 'tranquility,' includes alertness. Tranquility implies not just calmness, but also a kind of harmonious energy. This calm aliveness, tranquil aliveness, can be here in an embodied way.
I say all this to encourage you to begin appreciating the influence that relaxation has. In your daily life, as you go about, see if there are times when you notice your shoulders or your belly relax. Notice this as you sit down at the end of a long day. You've finally set down all your preoccupations, drive, and momentum, and you feel more relaxed. See if you can appreciate the influence this has on you. See if you can begin to feel the initial feelings of a certain kind of freedom, release – of no longer being limited, bound, or caught. Feel what that's like physically. Begin to appreciate the small movements of freedom that can be there.
And, as you get the hang of it, you might find there are many little movements of freedom – little movements of not being caught – that are happening all along. These are often easy to overlook, because they're not valued, particularly. Other things, such as getting something done, might be more valuable. But there might be a lot of little movements of: "Oh, that's great."
You might step out of your house after a rainstorm. The rain has passed and the sun has come out. And something inside of you releases in that feeling of being in the sun, outdoors, in the fresh air. What does that influence in you? What does that affect in your body? Appreciate it. Don't hang onto it. Don't get too complicated around it. But begin feeling little movements of freedom, release, relaxation, tranquility, and peacefulness that seem to emanate from moments of relaxation and ease.
The more we start recognizing this in daily life and meditation – in different places – the more it reinforces that movement. It reinforces the value of not being tense. It reinforces the value of not being caught up in preoccupations, driven, bracing ourselves against things, closing down, or trying to run away from things. It begins to question those movements of mind, those ways in which we are that are the opposite of freedom.
Do that in the small areas of your life. Ordinary things are wonderful stepping stones. They support us in getting deeper and further along, until the deeper areas of letting go – of freedom that 'ānāpānasati' is taking us to – become more natural, accessible, and understandable. This is because of what we've taken in earlier on in the practice: not just in meditation, but at other times of the day as well.
If you really want to go more and more deeply into 'ānāpānasati,' this movement toward freedom can become an ongoing sensitivity, an ongoing attention. It's not being self-preoccupied to do this. I hope you don't think it's selfish. Freedom is beginning to turn us inside out. In this freedom, we will be, I think, more easily and naturally more sensitive and caring for the world around us.
Tranquility, letting go, release, relaxation, calmness, are all part of the family of experiences and movements connected to liberation. Become a connoisseur of this. Become sensitive to it. Be informed by, inspired by, and in touch with it regularly. Maybe it will even become a bit of a habit. Let these movements grow and develop in you.
May this practice lead you to greater and greater experiences of freedom. And in doing so, may it be for your delight.
Thank you so much for today, and we'll continue this tomorrow.