2021-02-15 Mindfulness of Breathing (32) Simplicity of Breathing
5:38PM Feb 15, 2021
It's one of the wonderful things that simplicity is one of the hallmarks, one of the characteristics of meditation practice. And sometimes that's not quite seen because teachers like me might give all kinds of instructions. And it might seem like there are a lot of instructions to keep in mind.
A teacher I knew when I was in India, Munindra-ji, was a teacher of many of the early Western practitioners of 'vipassanā.' He had many wonderful sayings. One of them was: "If it's not simple, it's not 'vipassanā.'" So, the idea is to keep it simple.
How is it that this practice is simple? It's simple by relying on the simplicity of how we can be aware of something – to be aware in the simplest possible way. For each of us, and for each of us at different times, what it means to be aware will be different. Part of the fascination of it all is to see how what we call attention or awareness shifts and changes depending on how settled, how focused we are and the kind of attention that's useful in any given moment.
But the guideline is to always keep it simple. That means not to be striving for it to be different. Not to be trying to engineer your meditation, to get it just right. It means to not be trying to avoid experience, get away from something, overthink the experience, or think our way into something and try to figure it out analytically. What's the right way? And it's also not trying to do too much at once. The idea is to be content with just being.
Now, just being is not the end-game of meditation. But it's a reference point for keeping it simple. Rather than a lot of doing, there's a lot of being. And in that being, in the simplicity – to allow for whatever the native awareness is. This allows us to know that we're in the present moment to be there, surface, and show itself.
Because the mind drifts off, is caught up in thought, one of the things that many people find useful – it's not necessarily useful for everyone – is simplicity of breathing. Breathing is like the anchor line, tether, or support for staying in the present moment. Breathing is always in the present moment. It has a rhythm. It's not a fixed experience. It's a flowing, moving, changing experience.
And there's something about attention, following a moving, changing phenomenon that makes it easier to be relaxed in the present moment. Like we're watching, sitting under under a tree, relaxing in the shade on a warm day, watching the river go by. We can watch the ripples, their little wavelets, and the currents just flow. And we're not studying it intensely. We're just allowing the experience to come – we see it clearly.
There's something about that movement, where the mind doesn't fixate on something, but just allows things to flow – keeps the eyes soft, relaxed, and moving along with it. That's part of the reason why it can be relaxing for people to spend long periods of time watching a river go by, watching the waves on the beach come and go, or watching a fire burn – the changing patterns of the flames, as we watch the fire.
It's that movement of breathing – the coming and going of the inhale, the coming and going of the exhale – that can work for some people in a very nice way, keeping us in the present moment. And then, for many of us – especially if you're starting – you start getting more complicated than you need to be. And part of simplicity is to relax around making it complicated. You don't hold up simplicity as something to strive for and engineer. Rather, take yourself as you are. In a certain way, meditation is a "come as you are party." Come as you are.
Sit down and allow yourself to be how you are. In that allowing, settle into it. The art is not to let yourself be as you are, and continue to have your thoughts galloping away. But allow yourself to be as you are, and then really settle into the direct experience – the embodied, living experience of how you are.
There's a turning of attention inward to the body. What is the embodied experience of all this? What's the embodied experience of our mood, emotional state, mental state or physical state? The simplicity of being has a lot to do with what our experience is – here and now in the present moment. The body is always in the present moment. The breathing is always in the present moment – coming here and settling into it. And then, as we settle into it, at some point, to become atuned to, or align ourselves with the experience of breathing. Be with that simply.
Sometimes we're controlling the breath. Sometimes the breath feels tight and constricted, or held in some ways – not particularly comfortable. The experience of simplicity is just to allow that to be. Breathe with that. Breathe through it. Make room for it to be uncomfortable or controlled. Making room for, giving breathing room for, is part of keeping things simple. Allowing for something inside that is not yourself – your engineering efforts, your mechanisms of trying to fix and change. Something inside of you will begin to unfold, unwind, release, and find itself.
That's one of the things that the principle of simplicity is: to trust the simplicity of just being with experience. Trust your experience if you're present for it. Even if it's not necessarily ideal or comfortable. And then something within begins to open, unravel, relax on its own. There's a very strong momentum in our body, in our whole being, toward the release of tension, holding attention, pushing, and pressure.
Part of giving breathing room to ourselves and allowing things to be is, in fact, this movement towards allowing for settling, releasing – this freeing that can happen when we just keep showing up and being present.
Maybe what I've said this morning was too complicated, so I apologize. But it's all an effort to point to being simple. And the breathing can help you with that simplicity. Just be with the breathing. Trust the breathing.
I like the expression: "entrust yourself with breathing." It doesn't maybe look so sophisticated, doesn't look so wonderfully spiritual – but keep it simple. In that simplicity of being with experience, being with the simplicity of it, feeling the embodied experience of breathing – something will begin to settle. Something will begin to open. Something will happen, which is the journey of meditation practice.
So thank you all very much for today. We'll continue these forty-five minute sittings this week, all the way through Sunday – seven days, not just weekdays. And for those of you who are available to come on the weekend, we'll continue.
May you have a wonderful day. May the simplicity of meditation support you in giving the gift of simplicity to those people you encounter today. Thank you.