2021-03-12 Mindfulness of Breathing (53) Analogies for Samādhi
5:02PM Mar 12, 2021
"Breathing in, one concentrates. Breathing out, one concentrates the mind." "Breathing in, one steadies the mind. Breathing out, one steadies the mind." "Breathing in, one unifies the mind. Breathing out, one unifies the mind."
All these words, 'concentrate', 'steady' and 'unify,' are all facets of the same thing – developing and deepening meditation practice.
It can be helpful in the deepening of practice to have some landmarks, signposts – some sense of where we're going, what we're looking for, what we're valuing – as we develop meditation practice.
Subconsciously, unconsciously, the mind is valuing all kinds of things. That's why the thoughts go off – thinking about the past, future, fantasy, what we're worrying about, what we want – because we prioritize, or put value on those concerns.
If we place value on the process of meditation, and the signpost experiences in meditation – enough to recognize them – then we make space for them to grow and nourish us. They support us and provide more confidence, more reassurance, "Oh, this is good. This is the right thing to do." So it's easier to put down our preoccupations.
With this deepening of the practice, there are things like the mind becomes stiller and quieter. The mind and body become softer, more malleable. There comes a sense of well-being of different kinds – joy, happiness, and settledness. There can be equanimity. There can be a sense of being really embodied – feeling the vitality of our life coursing through us, feeling present and whole or settled: "Ahh it feels so good to be at home in this body."
The same thing with the mind. The mind can feel assured and peaceful. The mind can start feeling expansive – as if the mind has room for all the little details, dramas, and concerns of our life. All the little experiences and details can be held now in a mind that's really broad and wide. Like a very large room that can hold everyone and everything inside in a peaceful, spacious way.
With this expansive mind, open mind, there can be for some people a sense of brightness, even light that comes on, which feels really good.
I want to provide you with three similes or analogies that the Buddha uses for this deepening of meditation practice. The advantage of similes or analogies is that each person can interpret or find themselves in it more easily than with a clear technical description of what might happen in meditation. In addition, analogies are a little like poetry – they're evocative, they touch our imagination, and maybe even our emotions. They are also a bit kinesthetic, or somatic sometimes, so that our somatic associations come into play as well. There's a lot of room for personal uniqueness – our own way of finding ourselves in these analogies.
I want to offer three of them that are progressive – about deepening stages of meditation. They all use water. It has never been explained to me why water keeps being used in these similes and analogies, or what it represents. I take it to represent the mind – awareness itself. That's the medium in which we're operating right now – the mind, awareness. This awareness takes different shapes, different forms, as practice deepens.
The first simile is water being sprinkled into (in our modern equivalent) into flour. As the water gets sprinkled in, the water gets folded in, kneaded in, and stirred into the flour until the flour becomes dough, to make bread. What's important is that all the water, that's being sprinkled in, is kneaded in and spread out evenly throughout the dough. Part of the kneading of the dough, is to get that spread out equally, so that the dough can hold together into one whole. That's the analogy.
In a sense, the flour is the body, and the water is the awareness or the mind. We want to bring these together. The awareness immerses, or penetrates throughout the body. The body and mind are to be in the same place at the same time.
If the mind is thinking about other times and other places, then the body and mind are separated. If the mind starts focusing awareness entering into the body, and is present for the body – like for the breathing – then the mind is in the same place at the same time as the body.
What we're looking for is the body and mind to end up in harmony with each other – a unification and harmonious working together – where there can be a real experience of feelings of health, healthiness and wholesomeness – which can't be felt if there's a real dichotomy and separation between these two parts of ourselves.
We take awareness, and we bring it into our breathing. It's nice – the breathing itself is kind of a massage or kneading. We bring our awareness, and place it, sprinkle it into our breathing. Then we want to knead it, stay there with the breathing. Those are two different movements that I talked about yesterday – contact – placing of attention somewhere like with the breathing – and then keeping it there.
Keeping it there is not holding it necessarily steady, but a gentle kind of working it and staying there, being there. Then we have to do it again because the mind wanders off. We come back, connect, and stay there. That's sprinkling awareness into our breathing, into our body, and we're kneading it in. There's a massage, a rhythm of coming back and applying yourself, staying there, reconnecting.
For every beginning of the inhale and beginning of the exhale, there's a gentle reconnecting, that goes on there. Then it's staying there, "Stay there, be there" – the massage. Slowly we're beginning to penetrate awareness into the whole experience of breathing, so it's continuous and fills the experience of breathing, wherever that might be in the body.
Then, as we get the hang of doing this and feel like this is going well, there can be arising of gladness – certainly the gladness and happiness of relief of not being lost and preoccupied in thoughts – which for many of us are not so much fun. It's not a great thing to spend a lot of time caught up in thoughts and ruminations. What a relief it is to have the thoughts recede enough to not be pulled into their orbit – and to be settled here. There is work involved – this kneading, this sprinkling in – coming here.
The next analogy is what I used in meditation – a mountain lake with the underwater spring that flows through it. Now awareness has become very stable and expansive, and penetrates or rests on or is coterminous with the body. Now awareness and the body are not so distinct. We really feel the fullness of vitality, the aliveness of the body – where the sensory apparatus of the body, sense endings of the body, are part of the awareness system. Awareness is not just cognitive – mental observing or knowing. There's a broader feeling of sensing and aliveness, that's part of awareness.
The body and mind now are together as partners. Within that – concentration, steadiness, and intimacy with just breathing – there is inner goodness and nourishment, a welling up of joy, well-being or delight, which is not evaluative. We don't have to think ourselves into being happy. It's almost like, as some people say, their joy hormones – serotonin, endorphins – get released. In this steady, massaging, staying with a focus of concentration, a sense of well-being wells up. There's a flow of vitality, which feels like it comes from the inside out – the joy that comes from the inside, like a spring going forth.
The last analogy is now – in deeper meditation – the sense of flow, vitality and joy settles away into very deep, satisfying peacefulness. The analogy is a lake that has now become really still, unmoving. There are lotuses growing in it, meaning it's not a cold mountain lake, but a nice temperature – comfortable to be in. There are beautiful lotuses, many different colored lotus flowers, submerged in the lake, floating on the lake. And a sense that everything's very peaceful. Everything is calm, very still. Everything that's known within that calmness, even though conventionally it might be something not so nice – everything that is touched by awareness, touched by the water – is like beautiful lotus flowers floating there, peacefully in space, in the water.
Initially there's work, with the kneading of the dough, and then there's no more work. It's just a flow that's happening – we're being carried by the flow. Then the flow calms down. And we're in this very peaceful, still place where everything just feels beautiful. In these states, there is a lot of reassurance, confidence, and equanimity.
It's a beautiful thing to tap into this capacity for deep confidence, deep serenity, deep reassurance. It does the heart a tremendous amount of good. It does not depend on things in the world around us being just right, being fixed. It's a very private inner place, which becomes a resource from which we can enter into the world in a wonderful way.
Maybe those analogies are interesting for you to play with and work with. Maybe this topic of inner reassurance, assurance and confidence, is something that you can explore how that lives in you, as you go through the next day.
I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Thank you.