2021-01-11 Mindfulness of Breathing (6): Distinctions and Step 3
5:03PM Jan 11, 2021
So, we're gonna continue here on the Buddha's 16 steps of mindfulness of breathing, and begin coming into the third step. So the first two steps, the first one is to train oneself, present for an experience fully - as fully as one can - the inhales and exhales. And when the inhales and exhales are long, to experience them as long. To really be there in the experience. And when they're short, to really be there in the experience of them being short.
And I use this word experience intentionally, to make a distinction between trying too much to know or to understand, to search, and to feel what's going on. And mindfulness is not a lot of work. But it's more like dialing in an old radio until you get just the right frequency, so you can hear clearly. So you want to kind of dial in to really be present and experience the body.
And then the first step is experiencing a long breath as a long breath. The second step is, when the breathing becomes shorter, to experiences it as a shorter breath. And so the inhale is shorter, or the exhale is shorter, so experience it as a shorter experience, a shorter breath. So here we're seeing a distinction being made - two sets of distinctions. One is the distinction between the inhale and the exhale. The other is between these first two steps - between a long breath and a short breath.
And I interpret this to mean, as we're sitting and meditating, and we get calmer and more centered, that the breathing begins to shift and change. The heartbeat maybe slows down. The breathing slows down. And as the breathing slows down, it might not be as long. Now of course, sometimes we're agitated, and it's very fast In the short breath. And so maybe the opposite to that is happening. Sometimes as we sit down, and the breath does gets longer, as we get more settled and relaxed.
But then later, you might find that it gets more subtle, and shorter, and much more minute, even - the experience of breathing. In deep meditation, there can be a sense of almost not breathing at all. And partly, that's because we hardly need to breathe anymore. We don't need much oxygen anymore, because we're not doing a lot. We're not being so active. And so we're making these distinctions. I keep using the word making, but probably I shouldn't do that, because experiencing distinctions is a huge part of Buddhism. Buddhism is really based on our natural capacity to see differences between one thing and another.
We'll see this as we go through the 16 steps. Each of these steps is a new distinction - a new differentiation of things. So we're experiencing things more fully, more precisely, more clearly.
So the beginning is just with the breathing. And, and I also interpret this idea of experiencing the long breaths and short breaths as being an encouragement to really kind of begin experiencing all the different qualities of sensations and experiences that come with each in-breath and out-breath. So whether it's fast or slow, whether this breath feels tight, or held, or loose and relaxed. The expansion experiences and contraction as the chest and belly may be expanding and contracting. The temperature in the nostrils changes with the in breath and out breath. The sense of sharpness sometimes in the in-breath. a sharp sensation - and softer on the exhale. Sometimes the in-breath can feel jagged, rough, and jerky. And sometimes it's a nice, smooth flow. Same thing with the exhale sometimes.
So to begin entering into this world of breathing, and really experiencing it more and more fully. Experiencing the breathing more and more fully. And this is not meant to be work. It's meant to be almost - I don't know if enjoying is the right word - in the same way that you would taste your food more fully and carefully if you're really wanting to enjoy it. It's as if you're really going to enjoy the breath - you really feel it, and sense it deeply.
Then, as we settle in to the breathing, what it means is that we're no longer so distracted, or caught up in our thoughts and preoccupations. And it can take quite a while for us to really settle down to the breathing, being in the breathing. Coming back over and over again to the breathing. Letting go of our thoughts over and over again. And it's said that it doesn't matter how often the mind wanders off. It only matters that every time you do so, you bring it back in a nice way and start over again. And I love the expression starting over, starting over.
And, as we start over again repeatedly, the pull of thinking - that energy that goes into thinking begins to abate. And the thinking has less pull on us. We find ourselves settled more and more here, relaxed, calm in the present moment. As the mindfulness is working, we're not just getting calm. This is very important to understand. It's not just a process of using the breathing to get calmer, and calmer and calmer. Because if we do that, then the mind's sharpness to make distinctions, natural distinctions, differentiations to really feel things more fully and clearly, that begins to also get dull. So it's not just about getting calm. That's why we want to have a certain degree of calmness, and alertness or clarity in the mind. And so as the mind gets more settled, and more in the present, more and more here, less and less distracted, we tend to start taking in more experiences of what's happening for ourselves in the present moment. And we start becoming aware of the wider range of experience in the body.
There's a tendency for people who are doing mindfulness of breathing, that as they settle in, they experience their body more and more. And there's more a sense of embodiment and presence. And so the third step of ānāpānasati is: "One trains oneself thus: breathing in, one experiences the whole body; breathing out, one experiences the whole body."
This idea of experiencing the whole body is that the awareness now becomes more inclusive. We might still be centered on the breathing. But the peripheral attention now begins experiencing more and more of the body. This happens for a variety of reasons A primary one, as I said now, is because we're getting calmer and calmer, more relaxed, and less distracted. Sometimes it's because as we settle in, we become acutely aware of where the body is held tight. The tensions of the body become clearer and clearer, and we become aware of the various tensions that we weren't aware of in daily life, because we're so distracted and busy.
There's a phase of an honest meeting of all the holding patterns, and the tensions that we carry, which is part of the meditation practice. Part of this opening up to the body is the body revealing itself, and saying, "Hey, you! Look how tense I am. Include me. Pay attention to me too." And some of it is just a natural expansion of attention, to feel more and more.
For some people, this experience of the whole body is more limited to the whole experience of the breath - what's called the breath body - the full range of how the body experiences, which changes as we breathe in and breathe out. So all the ways in which we sense the diaphragm, the belly, the chest, the nostrils, the back of the throat - all the things that together are the "breath body." Some people interpret this to mean the whole body itself. We're breathing now with the whole body. It's like the whole body is breathing with us.
So there are many ways in which experiencing the body comes into play at this third step. And so we'll talk about this for the next days. Because mindfulness of the body is really also very central to Buddhism as a whole - to early Buddhism, to the teachings of the Buddha.
And very important for this deepening process of breath in the 16 steps - it turns out the more we can embodied, the easier it is to access, experience, receive the deeper benefits of meditation. So it's well worth spending time with mindfulness of the body. And, and really learning to appreciate this more and more deeply.
So we'll continue this journey of breath. I'm hoping to lay out many different angles for the appreciating the breathing - more and more and more. Maybe it'll seem a little bit uninteresting for you, some of the what I teach here around breathing. But it's the sum total of all these things together - as we take them in and know them - that will have a wider and wider range of connecting us to the present moment, to the breathing, to meditation. It's the whole package - both what's interesting and not interesting - that can help us begin opening up into this wonderful journey of meditation.
So thank you and I look forward to being here with you again, tomorrow.