2021-01-26 Mindfulness of Breathing (18) Allowing for Pleasure
5:40PM Jan 26, 2021
We have in the practice of mindfulness of breathing, this ideal of having continuity of attention with the breathing. And, and that can sometimes be developed. And that ability grows over time. It grows, both because we are developing more capacity for concentration, and, and kind of commitment and stick to it. But also we begin to lessen the forces of distraction – the muscles in the mind to be pulled, to to get preoccupied in thought, and, and desires, and aversions, and distractions of all kinds. The energy for doing that begins to lessen. And the more that lessens, the easier it is to stay with the breathing.
And the energy of distraction, wandering off in thought – if you're really sensitive, you can feel there is a kind of tension in that – or pressure, or something that feels a little disconnecting, or can feel alienating even. And even though some of the things we think about might be pleasant and enjoyable, there's something about it, which can feel a little bit off.
So as we begin practicing continuity, or trying to be continuous with the breathing, one of the functions of that is to help us to see and notice how difficult it is to do. How much the mind wanders off in thought, and and, and rather than being obsessed with that, and feeling like you're not succeeding with the idea of staying focused, there's a phase of mindfulness practice, where we actually have to take stock of what our mind is doing, what it's up to: both its tendency to be distracted, and what it's like to be distracted, what it feels like – to be mindful of the experience of thinking a lot. And we start seeing some of the common themes of things that pull us away.
One framework for understanding the common themes is a bit less specific – so we don't get pulled into the details of those particular concerns. We see them as the five hindrances. To see them, "Oh, that's desire. That's ill will, or some kind of aversion. Or now the mind is just lethargic, dull, and resistant. And now there's agitation in the mind – remorse, regrets, restlessness. And there's doubt.
And so rather than saying doubt about something, or agitated about something, desiring something, it's just recognizing, in this general kind of way, "Oh, there's desire. There's aversion, lethargy, resistance, agitation, doubt." It's a way of creating a little bit of a healthy distance, where we're not so quickly, so easily caught in that particular concern. Just enough to see, "There it is." And then to learn to recognize that, and learn to relax, let go. Learn not to believe that that's where you need to be.
Don't get invested in it. Don't be seduced by it. But recognize, "Oh, there it is, my old friend." No need to be upset with yourself, your doing this. And part of the benefit of just recognizing it as a category – desire, aversion – is that it will be a bit easier to maybe take it less personally. Not to be so wrapped up in the personal details of a particular thing that we're distracted by. And these forces called the five hindrances are seen in Buddhism as being part of what humans do. You're kind of, in a way born born with them, and, and they just come along with being alive. They don't have to stay there. We don't have to be their victims, or just continue to be lost in them. But we don't have to think it's a personal failing that we do it. It just comes with being human, and we have to learn to work with it.
And as we settle down, we might clearly see just the label: distraction, or thinking. And this is enough to disconnect us from the specificity of thinking about the content – to the experience of just wandering in thought. It's a way of begining to lessen the pull, or the energy that goes into it – quieting that energy, softening – so we can start staying more with the breathing.
By becoming familiar with what it's like to have a distracted mind, then there can be a greater appreciation of what it's like to have a non-distracted mind. And one of the delights in meditation practice is when we feel like, "Oh, now we've settled in!" And we're really here. There's a qualitatively different experience of really being here, clear, present, and awake. An awareness being clear, with very little tendency to wander off. It just feels like, "Oh, this is a good place. I'm home now."
And so each person may experience a little bit differently than the words I just used, but they will feel the goodness of being present. And that gives birth to a certain kind of pleasure, delight, or joy – the joy of the mind not under the control of distractions. It is kind of like we get to be ourselves. We've finally arrived – here. And it's kind having gotten their mind back, as opposed to the mind kind of constantly being lost and caught up in these other concerns.
And, and to take some time to feel that pleasure, delight, or joy of being able to now stay with the breathing in a more continuous way. In flow. And to be there, and be free of distractions – free of these pulls to all these thoughts that maybe are not so great to be in. And it's better to be in the simplicity of the ease of just staying here with the breathing. Here.
And so when we start doing this, then we enter into a territory of meditation, where we are getting close to feeling joy. The word in Pali is pītī. Sometimes it's translated into English as pleasure. Feeling the pleasure of meditation. Some people like to translate it as joy: the joy of meditation. It's very physical. So that's why people like to use the word pleasure for it.
It is interesting that the Buddha, before he was enlightened, spent six or seven years as an ascetic – doing all kinds of self mortification practices, certainly with a lot of pain and challenges. It said that he did this so thoroughly that he came right up to the edge of dying. He was emaciated and stumbling around falling. And, and, and he realized that if he does one more little step of this ascetic practice, he would actually die. So he didn't think that was useful. So he then ate some food, and got a little bit of senses back. And then he reflected, and he remembered a time when he was young, when he felt a kind of meditative pleasure – meditative joy – that was not dependent on sensual pleasures in the world. So it wasn't sex, or food, or massages, or wonderful activities. It was something that welled up from inside. And then he said: "I don't have to be afraid of this. We don't have to be afraid of this kind of pleasure."
A bit of the strength of that statement is that these ascetics in ancient India thought that sensual pleasure was just a trap – a dead end – and not helpful for the process of liberation. And so they tended to to dismiss all pleasures. And the Buddha then came to realize, "No. The problem is not with a pleasures. The problem is really with the attachments to them, the preoccupation with them. And there is a kind of pleasure, which we don't have to be afraid of."
And one reason we don't be afraid of it is that we're not causing any harm in the world. We're not breaking precepts. We're not consuming things in the world, using them up, or something like that. There's a blameless pleasure that can well up from inside when we sit, and get focused and concentrated – here. And, and as we do so, and feel the delight or the pleasure of just being present really. Then we can begin tuning in to what the Buddha called "blameless pleasure" – this simple delight of being present.
And we could use, as a biofeedback system, that pleasure, or joy, or sense of well being that encourages us to stay with the breathing – stay in the present moment. And after a while, there starts to be a kind of a feedback loop that builds up, where staying with the breath, massaging the breath, stroking the breath feels like it very gently, very slowly, is reinforcing the clarity, the pleasure, or the joy. It just feels good. I know some people, who talk about how there's something that starts feeling beautiful in the body. A beautiful feeling begins to kind of radiate, to glow. I like the word to glow a little bit someplace in the body. And if we stop focusing a breath, that glow, that beauty kind of recedes and disappears.
And it's very important, very useful, to start allowing ourselves to feel the pleasure of meditation when it's there. But do it carefully. Not to do it to indulge in it. Not to do it to linger and savor it. But to do it as a way to continue to kind of open to the present moment.
It's almost like that pleasure is like the warmth of the sun, which allows the body to relax when the body has been cold and tight. And so this opening, this receptivity of allowing of it to be there. And not to kind of say, "Oh, it feel so good!" Just kind of really, you know, savoring it. So to allow it to be there, and kind of use it to kind of open. In particular to open even more to the breathing. And allow the breathing to have the continuity of really focusing on the breathing, and settling in. So it's very useful to do so.
But it's very important to do it without denying or pushing away feeling that many times, we don't have pleasure. Many times there is pain. There is there is discomfort. There are difficult emotions, difficult states of mind. And we don't want to deny that, or override it and do a spiritual bypass. But there's a wonderful art of including both together. And once we get a sense of the feelings of well-being that can exist, they can coexist with some of the distress we have.
Some of the challenges we have in life are increased by the way the mind fixates on them, the way we zero in on them, and take them as being the thing of the moment – the most important thing – and get caught by it. And this breath meditation begins to soften that fixation around certain themes and ideas. They don't necessarily go away. As a fixation softens, we start feeling a wider context of our lives – the wider goodness and pleasure – a feeling of wholeness that holds the particular challenge we have.
So there is pleasure and joy that we do not have to fear. And, and as meditation deepens from time to time, we will feel that. And it can be very subtle at first. And the art of meditation can be to allow ourselves to feel that as a way of supporting us to stay in the present moment.
It's like a little cheerleader or support. Stay there. Be with this. And it's a lot easier for the mind to to stay present with experience if the mind is feels that it's a pleasant place to be – it's an enjoyable place to be.
So so you might get curious in your daily life and in your meditation – maybe sit a little bit extra these days. Meditate extra, and be curious about senses of well-being, and good feelings you might have within. And know, "Where are they? How are they? Where do you feel it?" When do you feel pleasure and well-being that's not directly related to what's happening around you?
It's so good to just to be present, settled, and content. Just to be here for no good reason. Just sitting here, being here. And if you're at all inclined to meditate more this week, it might give you more opportunities to explore this territory of pleasure.
So thank you, and I hope you enjoy yourself with all this.