2021-01-19 Mindfulness of Breathing (13) Culitivating Tranquiliity
6:01PM Jan 19, 2021
So to talk a little bit about the fourth step of ānāpānasati, fourth step of mindfulness of breathing, and this is: "Breathing in, one trains oneself to relax the whole body, to calm the whole body." Well, actually, it doesn't say the whole body. It says, "Relax the bodily formations. Breathing out, one relaxes the bodily formations."
And I talked a little bit about this yesterday. The bodily formations is the constructs, the activities, the tensions, in the holding patterns in the body, which are the product of what we're doing with our minds, our attitudes, our thoughts, our reactions. We might also consider the product of the emotions that we're living by – fear and anger and all kinds of emotions, joy. They all have an impact. They're all manifested in our body.
And if we hold on to any of this – if we cling to anything at all, or resist, hold at bay – that that often gets translated into our body, in tensions in our muscles. And that can be micro tensions, and they can be major tensions. And as we let up, the holding the tension, the resistance, the the grasping, preoccupation with these thoughts and feelings and emotions, then the correlating tensions in the body begin to relax as well.
And this generally happens on its own, the more we sit and focus. Sometimes, we can relax more deeply if we don't try to relax. Many times in meditation, I felt there's some tension in my body. And I've actively tried to relax it to no avail. And then I just give myself over to just being focused on breathing – and put aside any concern with the tension – and the concentration begins to kick in. And that part of my body, lo and behold, will relax.
And that's partly because, with concentration on breathing, the mental energy is no longer going into clinging to something, holding on to something. It's just going into breathing, which is more neutral, or doesn't have so much clinging involved. And so the energy goes away from the clinging, the grasping, in the mind. Then as the grasping in the mind quiets down, then the body relaxes as well.
And so that tends to happen. But in this so wonderful step four of ānāpānasati. The instructions from the Buddha are to spend some time relaxing the bodily formations – tranquilizing, making tranquil, bringing tranquility into their system. It took me a while to appreciate this, because I started in Zen practice, and also the way that I was taught vipassanā practice. Both of them had a similarity, in that we were not supposed to be too actively involved in changing or doing something to our experience. We were mostly just supposed to be present for experience as it is.
Any attempt to try to do something was considered extra – and maybe even a symptom of greed, or attachment itself. And so it took a while for me to learn that it's also okay to spend some time relaxing the body, softening the body, if you feel the tension there. And these are the instructions from the Buddha: to actually take some agency in relaxing when we can. And now it can be overdone. And some people think that's the be all and end all of meditation – one just keeps relaxing and relaxing, Relaxing or relaxation can be overdone – and can be detrimental to really developing the strong sense of mindfulness and concentration that we want.
So we don't want to focus on it and be in a hurry. Or be demanding, and expect to know right away the benefits of deep relaxation.
That's why the first three steps of ānāpānasati do not have any instructions to do any relaxation at all. It's just simply to notice what's there, and be present for what's there. Experience what's there. And that's a really, really powerful thing to do. The fact that it's the first few steps doesn't mean that it's grade school meditation. Generally most meditators will spend a lot of time with the first few steps, the first two or three steps.
And maybe in the course of my career of meditating, I probably spent more time on the first two or three steps, then I'd have the other 14, 15, 16 steps as I have, you know, the first three steps, I'm sorry, say it again, look a little bit jumbled here in my head. So the first three steps, I've probably done those as much as I've done all the rest of the steps together. And so the idea of spending a lot of time there, with really feeling, experiencing the body – experiencing the breathing.
And then, when it's well experienced, well recognized, then it makes sense to relax. It makes sense to relax and let go of something that is really well understood. And, so we relax and let go to the breathing that is easy. We don't try to force the issue. Don't be upset if you can't. But if it's available, relax.
And one thing you can do is the guided body scan, which I taught in the meditation just now, where you systematically scan from the top of your head all the way through the body, feeling a different part of the body as you inhale. And as you exhale: relaxing, softening, tranquilizing that part of the body. Be very content with even micro relaxations. It doesn't have to be much. And just go do go through it. And, and that scan also is a concentration practice. It's also a mindfulness practice. So we're getting a lot of benefits from kind of going through this.
And so there are times when it's nice to do a body scan, especially if you sit for longer periods of time – to begin with that. To really feel and sense what's here. And then maybe to relax more deeply. At some point, you have to be content, that for now, you're not going to relax any more than you than you are. And so just settle in. Part of mindfulness practice is to learn to be accepting of tensions that don't go away. Just be willing to feel uncomfortable in parts of our body. And practice with that. And not try to make everything a project, not try to work and expect to work and get rid of every little discomfort that happens.
It's a phenomenally important in mindfulness practice to learn to be present in an accepting and non-conflicted way with tension, with discomfort, with everything that happens. And if we're constantly think we have to change and fix, we're going to shortchange ourselves from the power of meditation.
But from time to time, it's appropriate to relax. And to relax more and more deeply. And sometimes, that edge of relaxation, the kind of time to really focus on relaxing, is not just because you would like to it feels to be good to relax, but rather, because you're so aware of your body. So present for it, from doing the first three steps, that you can feel that you're on the edge between tension and relaxation. There's almost like a tipping point – like yes, you can feel or sense. So just beyond the tension, there's a possibility of relaxing.
And if you just feel tension with no being on the edge of the potential for relaxing, maybe don't bother to try relaxing. Maybe then you're relaxed, and you're trying too much what can't be done. But take time to feel yourself on that edge. Don't be in a hurry to relax. Then see what happens – and then relax.
And, and I think that there's a biological feeling inside of the whole biological system, wanting to relax, wanting to release – partly because tension, the holding patterns, take a lot of work. It's tiring. And sooner or later you'll feel like you just want to take a rest, and relax, and stop all that work of tension. So to feel that yearning, feel that longing, feel that possibility for relaxation is one way to be wise about relaxation – so that you don't overdo it.
The Buddha said that the nourishment for tranquility is tranquility. In other words, in other words, the what supports further relaxation is relaxation itself. So, to when you relax, to feel and sense and experience the tranquility, the calmness that might be there. Appreciate that. Value that. If you think there are more important things to do than to value and be present for the calm that's there, then you'll miss the ways in which the calm nourishes and supports more contentment, more tranquility, more serenity. So, to begin appreciating tranquility, calmness, serenity, relaxation. And it's a little bit of a foretaste of the deeper release and letting go, which happens as we go along these 16 steps.
And so you might over this next day, become a student of calm, a student of tranquility. Notice the small and big ways it's available to you. And, if there's something you can do, like go sit in someplace in nature, or sit in a nice chair and have tea – then why don't you try to see if you can tap into more tranquility, more serenity, more calm over this next day?
And don't be so quick to succumb to agitation, to doing an activity that just keeps the mind spinning. See what you can learn from serenity, peace, tranquility. And as I said, one of the slogans of Buddhism is that if you want to be wise, cultivate tranquility first.
So thank you, and I look forward to continuing tomorrow.