Friday, January 22, 2010

The Basics III: The Breath and Beyond

Whenever we hear beginning meditation instructions, there is always this talk about following the breath. We place our awareness on the breath, the physical sensation in the belly or the nose, we observe it. We are asked to approach it with interest, curiosity, "What is this breath like?" Notice the beginning of the in-breath, the middle, the end, the space between the in and out-breath, the begin of the out-breath, the middle, the end, and start over. It goes like this, over and over. The mind wanders off, we bring it back, again and again.

So what is this about? Sometimes we ask our self, "What am I doing here? I'd rather be doing something fun. This is hard. This is boring. When do we get to the interesting part?" Sometimes people say, "Okay, I can watch my breath, what's next?" or, "When do we start doing real meditation?"

Sure, there are other instructions besides following the breath, but there really isn't anything more advanced, more profound than awareness of the breath. This is it. Because if we can really pay full and complete attention to the breath, without trying to change it, with a relaxed and open mind, without judgment or commentary, then this is really the practice. This is training the mind, developing the skills of mindfulness, kindness, attention. We train with the breath and other body sensations because it is easier than starting with, say, anger or chronic pain or anxiety. We need to develop our skills with the breath so we can apply them to every experience in our life.

Working with the breath, we learn how to meet every experience this same way, with openness, curiosity, kindness. We learn to touch everything in our life in a deep and immediate way. The breath is our home base, where we start and where we return when everything else is too hard, too crazy, too much. No matter where we are, what the situation is, the breath is here, now.

So, if we get bored and want something more interesting to happen, we notice that and return to the breath. If we notice the thought, "I can't do this," notice that and return to the breath. When other thoughts, stories, planning, memories, judgments pull us away, we notice them and return to the breath. Every return, if done gently, without judgment, is a mindful moment and strengthens the capacity to be more alive, aware, conscious in all situations. Welcome each return. Appreciate the freshness, the aliveness of each moment spent in awareness. Let the breath be, just as it is without trying to change it. Get to know it, really know it, without mental commentary. Relax into this moment, this breath with your whole being.

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