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During MIDL Mindfulness training 1 - 5, we learnt how to create the foundation for our seated MIDL Mindfulness Meditation practice. This foundation is based on learning how to immerse our awareness within the sensate quality of our body, creating our anchor now, here.
Here I am.
We learnt how to switch on autonomous breathing. This is natural breathing, uncontrolled breathing - creating the foundation for Mindfulness of Breathing in MIDL seated meditation and also Mindfulness of Breathing in everyday life.
In exercises 4 and 5, we then learnt basic Softening Into skills and these skills answer the question - "When I am sitting here grounding my awareness within my body and my attention moves, what do I do with it?"
When we notice this shift of attention, we observe one thing: “How am I relating to this?”
Whenever we become distracted, our relationship to that distraction is important. The Softening Into skills give us the answer of what to do with that distraction, what to do with that relationship.
Our attention has shifted to a thought - it is a thought of worry, of concern. We observe the mind’s relationship to that thought, and we 'Soften'.
Our attention has shifted to a sound. We observe the mind’s relationship to that sound, and we 'Soften'.
Our attention has shifted to pain. We observe the mind’s relationship to that pain, and we 'Soften'.
These two foundations of 'Grounding' and 'Softening' work together. We have created our first MIDL Foundation of immersing awareness within the sensate quality of our body, holding us present, 'Now'. And we have the answer to the question of what to do when our attention shifts or moves away from this 'Grounding Point'.
And that answer is using the Softening Into skill:
We observe our attention move, we notice our mind’s relationship to what it has moved towards, and we 'Soften'. We Soften Into that relationship. When we Soften Into experience, the relationship changes and we bring awareness back within the sensate quality of our body.
This then allows us to move onto Mindfulness of Breathing in MIDL.
In MIDL when practicing Mindfulness of Breathing, we don’t fix or locate our breathing in any particular area. Wherever the breathing appears to us is correct. This is how it should be. Instead of fixing the breathing in any place, we allow the mind to actually attract to the breathing at whatever point is clearest to it. The way we do this is by relaxing into our foundation.
First we start off by sitting, experiencing the sensate quality of our body, relaxing deeply into our body, immersing awareness within our body. If there is any agitation, restlessness, we can use a few Softening breaths - just deeply 'in' and deeply 'out'. If we are really stressed we can do diaphragmatic breathing first and re-engage autonomous breathing as in exercise number 03/52.
Once awareness is fully immersed within our body, we feel very grounded, very anchored - then we relax our chest and our belly. Relaxing the chest and the belly is the first aspect of giving up control of breathing. When we do this, our natural breathing will appear. We just gently become aware of it as is moves in through the tip of our nose, through our chest, deep into our belly, and as it moves back out again. If some parts of the breathing are not clear to us, that’s ok. It is how it is. We allow it to be.
We just become gently aware of that movement of the breath, of the sensations as our breath moves through our body. We watch this breath as if from a distance. We watch it like we are standing on a mountain watching the villagers walking around. There is no need to look closely at the breathing at this stage.
While experiencing breathing moving through the centre of our body, we always keep the awareness of the sensate quality of our body in mind. Keeping full awareness of our whole body just sitting here and experiencing breathing as a column of sensations moving within that centre; within that foundation.
While doing this we may start to notice some tightness within the breathing, or awkwardness. The breathing may not seem to flow naturally. This brings us onto MIDL Mindfulness Training 6/52: The Natural Breath. As mentioned in earlier trainings, our breathing can happen naturally or it can be controlled.
Breathing happening naturally is autonomous breathing, moving by itself, free from control. Autonomous breathing is light, it is wispy, it is smooth, it is deep. Controlled breathing is breathing that is being interfered with by the mind, this can be intentional control or habitual control. The mind in its defensive state doesn’t want to leave the breathing alone; it wants to control everything that it experiences in order to feel safe. Habitual controlled breathing is tight, heavy, rough, shallow and uncomfortable.
When we are approaching MIDL Mindfulness of Breathing, the first thing that we are actually going to find is that the mind loves to control breathing.
So, during our first MIDL Mindfulness of Breathing training the aspect we are working with is control. We need to start deconditioning the desire to control that which doesn’t need to be controlled. We use observation of the experience of breathing to teach us how to do this. Breathing can happen naturally, or it can be habitually controlled, we use this to observe the defensive aspect of our mind.
The training is done by first observing breathing as it moves up and down within our body. Observing any tightness, any tension, any altering of the breath. To check control and work with control we do one thing:
We take a slow breath out through our nose and we relax and wait. When we relax and wait at the end of that out-breath, autonomous breathing will switch on and the breath will draw in by itself.
Now during one of my classes, I had a student who breathed out, relaxed and waited...... and after the exercise they told me:
“Stephen, I don’t like this exercise - I nearly suffocated!”
And I started to question why? What’s going on? And they said they breathed out, they relaxed and waited, but they were holding their breath.
So, don’t hold your breath at this point. This is not about control - if you hold your breath, you will pass out! This is a defensive aspect of the mind and a reflection of control.
This is about allowing breathing to happen naturally, about getting out of the way. We breath out, relax and wait, and get out of the way. Allowing breathing to come in by itself. Don’t worry - it will. Just allow it to be. We are working with control.
Just slowly breathe out through your nose, relax and wait. You can get out of the way by immersing your awareness within your body, 'Grounding' within your body, watching the breathing from a distance. Don't watch breathing directly, in this way you will notice that at some point the breath draws in by itself.
Notice the breath feels different when it draws in by itself. It may be light and wispy and smooth. And your diaphragm will naturally engage in this breathing. Just observe that breathing 'Now', naturally, and stay out of its way.
As you observe it, you may notice tightening or tensing of the breath. That tightness or tension that is appearing is your mind starting to control the breathing, your mind not leaving the breath alone. Whenever you notice this tightening, this change in the breathing - slowly breathe out through your nose, relax and wait. Wait for the breath to come in again by itself.
So, do it now. Breathe out, relax and wait.
As the breath comes in, it draws in. It is long, it is smooth, it is beautiful. The beauty of the breath can appear to us in this way.
See how long you can observe your breathing before your mind starts to control it. If you find that your mind keeps controlling the breathing at this point - it controls it very quickly - don’t get upset. Getting upset, complaining, that is just more control of the mind. It is not you.
Your mind wants to control everything, it is trying to protect you, that is all, your task in MIDL is to teach it that 'Now' is safe. If you observe complaining within the mind “Oh, I am no good! I can’t do this!” - observe that complaining, notice how it appears in your body as tension and use a Softening Into breath to relax that complaining, relax that control. Re-ground your awareness within your body, experiencing the breathing moving up and down within it.
Take a slow breath out, relax and wait. And begin again.
When the breath comes in, be with the breath as long as you can without controlling it. Learn what it means to observe control. Notice that as the breath tightens, it is just a reflection of the mind itself tightening as well. The mind trying to control everything around it.
Learn to observe natural breathing. Learn to observe breathing moving throughout your body, breathing free from control, breathing in it’s natural reality.
Also learn to work with control from your mind. If you can’t observe something like as simple as breathing - that you don’t need to control - without controlling it, then how can you abandon any control within your daily life? How can you abandon your control over yourself? Over your partner? Over your children? Over your workplace? How can you remove yourself from this cause of much suffering within life?
Observe control of the breathing; allow the breathing to be a barometer to teach you about control. You can then decondition control within your mind through breathing creating a foundation for Mindfulness of Breathing in your seated MIDL practice, and also through deconditioning the tendency to control within your daily life.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, Meditation Instructor from Meditation in The Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you