2021-01-20 Mindfulness of Breathing (14) Feeling Calmness
4:31PM Jan 20, 2021
So in the last couple of weeks, we've gone through the first four steps of ānāpānasati. And to specify what they are, the first step is to be aware of when you're breathing in long inhale, know it's a long inhale. When breathing out a long exhale, know it's a long exhale. It seems rather simplistic and maybe boring, or "What's the point of doing that?"
I take it to be becoming aware of, to become aware of just a greater attention, sensitivity, knowledge, understanding of the physical experience of breathing – how it is. Such a valuable way of establishing attention, getting focused, taking our mind away from our preoccupations and concerns of the day to centering ourselves in something which is considered extremely wholesome in Buddhism – the wholesome attention to just breathing, just breathing. It might seem simplistic to just focus on the sensations, the experience of breathing, but it opens up. And we'll see in the 16 steps, how it opens up to a whole new world.
So then the second step is, when we're breathing in a short inhale or out short exhale, to know that's what it is. So again, seeing the changes. As we settle in and get more concentrated, more settled, our breathing begins to shift and change. And one of the more common changes is that you sit down, and you have kind of a breathing, big and fast, that as we settled, it becomes more subtle, more relaxed, and tends to be slower and, and shorter breaths at first.
Then as we settle more, there's a natural way in which you tend to become aware of more and more of the body, and awaken a sensitivity to the body. And so as it does, so, to start becoming aware of more than just the sensations of breathing, it might be the global experience of breathing. It might be the global experience of being in a body. It isn't so much like an exercise like now go and search, but rather, to go along with and support the expansion of attention in the present moment, which begins to encompass our physicality, our embodied experience.
And then as we're more familiar with the body, at some point, we can feel like now it's time to, to relax – to bring some tranquility, to release some of the tension we have. And, and then do that. And then in a sense, we can start over again. And I'd like to think of it not so much as a technique, ABC, to go through like that. But kind of a recognition of a natural movement that we go as we get more and more settled, "Oh, now I'm here. Now I'm here."
And after we're kind of relaxed, it's good not to be thinking, "What's next?" But rather, to kind of sense it more, settle in more. Now experience the breathing, and what the breathing is like more deeply. And now let the experience of being embodied become fuller – as it kind of grows, in that tranquility, where calmness can begin to set in.
The fourth step is this calming, or relaxing the the bodily formations, the bodily activity, the way that tensions are held in the body. And I like the word relaxing, it might be better sometimes to have the notion of calming, when we can't actually release some of the holding patterns in the body. It might be frustrating if that's what we're trying to do.
But it might be possible to calm the body. And calming is a little bit different than releasing tension. It's more like suffusion. Suffusion of a sense of tranquility, ease, settledness, peacefulness, which also can suffuse this body.
So whatever way it is, this calming, calming of the body, tranquilizing the body, relaxing the body as the fourth step. It's the fourth step. And each of the next tetrads – groups of four – practices up to the 16th one. The last one belongs to the family of letting go and releasing. And so what we'll see is a pattern in this ānāpānasati, where as we come to the fourth step [of each tetrad], we come to a place of transition – a certain kind of releasing, or freedom, liberation, letting go that is possible. And it's a natural transition, because when something has released or relaxed, then we can go on to the next point. And and kind of go do the whole thing over again in a certain way, at a deeper level, or fuller, more full, full, full embodied way or something.
And so with the fourth step, there's this becoming calm and tranquil. And then there's a kind of to just as a good idea, but also as a preparation for the second tetrad when we relax the body, when we let the body become more tranquil or more settled, or calmer, or if that happens, as we're meditating, without any doing on our part, we just feel like we're getting more settled more calm – then it's useful to experience that more – to feel that more fully.
So don't just recognize, "Oh, it's nice that I'm calm," and then just go back to your breathing. But to take time to feel the fullness, feel the experience of what it's like to soften, relax, become calmer.
And in a very important part of these first steps of ānāpānasati into the second tetrad is this word experience. And maybe we could use the English word feel – to really feel and experience what's happening. This is an embodied, or a physical sensing. Sensing into it. It's not thinking about it, analyzing it, reflecting upon it – but it's a lot about dropping in and allowing ourselves to feel, to sense with the body, what is going on here.
So as we get calmer and more settled, to take time to feel and sense what that experience is like. How is that in the body? Not trying to make more of it per se. But just to let it register, to take it in, to be nourished by it, nurtured by it, to be supported by it, to let it be a little bit like an encouragement, "Oh, this is good! This is so good. Let me not linger too much. Let me not savor this, that's going too far. But let me feel it in a full way. And let it be encouraged now, to really kind of settle further into my breathing." Maybe going through these first four steps again.
And I kind of simplify the four steps [into three] by just saying: "One is to become familiar with the breathing, the sensations, the experience of breathing. Two is to start becoming aware of more of that global experience in the body of breathing. And kind of opened up the attention to feel more peripherally, what's happening as you breathe. And the third is to relax and settle and calm this body."
So be careful when we have ideas like this have a progression in particular practices to do, it can be easy to be caught up in idea that it's a project, a set technique, you know, paint by numbers or something. That can be okay. But don't get caught in that then, and be in a hurry. Don't have expectations of how quickly is supposed to unfold. Even the very first two steps of ānāpānasati are worthwhile doing for a whole sitting for a whole week, a whole month, a whole year. And chances are, if you do that, the other steps of ānāpānasati will just find you when you're ready. So you don't have to be kind of ahead of yourself so much.
But if these first steps of ānāpānasati we've done this last couple of weeks are nice for you, you can just cycle through them in an easy, relaxed way, and settle. Maybe it can be a bit of a spiral as you go through them, and come back to the beginning, and go through them again. It's kind of like you're getting more and more settled, more concentrated, more here in the present moment. More attentive.
So one of the new practices or new ideas that I offer today is the idea that when you do relax, when there is a calming of your body, take a little time to really allow yourself to feel the affect of it, the effect of it. Feel what it's like – the consequences of it. Feel the goodness of it. And if there's pleasure, feel the pleasure of it. So that you're more able to use that to be even more embodied – more present here. Experience it more fully.
So as you go through the next 24 hours, I assume that for many of you, that as you go through your daily life, there are all kinds of small ways – of big ways – that you find yourself getting tense. Holding your shoulders. Holding in, contracting, getting kind of caught up in something. And And when you do, practice releasing, and soften in your body. And take some time then to feel what happens as you do so. What are the consequences of that? What is the goodness and the pleasure of that?
And it can be a little bit of a challenge to do this, because we get intense because things are exciting around us, or something important is going on. And so it's like, you know, I have to get back to what's important. Then we get back up to being tense. But maybe if you take time to feel the goodness of relaxing – maybe you can find another way to participate in the activities of your life that are not so tense.
So may you practice well today. May your relaxation, your calmness, be such that you're ready to support and offer your goodwill to all people today – especially every everyone in United States, no matter how they're feeling about the events of today.
So thank you so much and I look forward to our time tomorrow.