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To begin MIDL Mindfulness of Breathing training we sit down, adjust our posture and begin a process of 'grounding' Awareness. First we 'ground' Awareness within the sounds around us. We focus on the change within sound. We focus on how sound flows, how it comes and goes. Focusing on sound in this way 'grounds' Awareness and removes sound as a distraction in our meditation practice.
As we become more present we then gently bring our attention from the flow of sound, to the experience of our body to allow Awareness to immerse within it. First settling into the general experience of warmth or coolness within our body, in a very relaxed way. From this 'grounding' of Awareness our attention wanders less. This 'grounding' in warmth and coolness becomes a reference point from which we observe whenever our attention moves away from them.
We then bring the Awareness down to any points of touch: The experience of our hands touching each other, the pressure of our arms resting on our legs, the pressure of our body sitting in the chair or resting on the floor, the touch of our feet. These points of touch are the next 'grounding point' for our Awareness. Again, we keep these 'grounding points' gently in mind and observe whenever our attention moves away from them.
As the mind settles down we then widen our Awareness throughout the whole of our body, taking in all the 'grounding points' and we relax into our body to allow Awareness to immerse within it. This then creates our Viewing Platform for MIDL Mindfulness of Breathing.
From this stage we simply relax our chest and belly and allow the breathing to flow naturally. We experience the breath as it moves up and down within our body. At this stage we are not looking for accuracy. We just experience the breathing as column of sensations moving up and down within the centre of our body.
There is no right way to experience our breathing, however the breathing appears to us is correct. One day it may be clearer at the tip of the nose, another at the chest, another at the belly. It doesn’t matter. Our only task is to be aware of the sensations associated with breathing.
While experiencing breathing we always keep a general Awareness of the sensations within our body in mind. Our 'grounding point'. This helps the activity of our mind to settle down. It gives us a reference point to ‘now’. Our only task is to be very present, just to be with what we are experiencing 'now'.
At this stage, however the experience of breathing appears to us is correct. One day it may be clearer at the tip of the nose, another at the chest, another at the belly. It doesn’t matter. Our only task is just to be aware of the sensations within. Being aware of the sensations within our breathing.
During our meditation practice we initially use a simple mental label to help point our attention towards the experience of breathing and to clarify perception of it. This is done by gently repeating a simple word describing what we are experiencing. This label is aligned with the experience of breathing by saying silently 'in, in' as the breath comes in and 'out, out' as the breath goes out.
While gently labelling the breath as "in" and "out" we make sure that the labels are concurrent with the experience of breathing, this alignment increases the accuracy of attention. Labelling our experience is a way of saying "This is what I am experiencing now" and if used properly helps to build momentum of Mindfulness, Concentration and clarifies Awareness.
At some time during Mindfulness of Breathing our attention will be drawn away from it. At this point we do not hang onto the experience of breathing but instead turn our attention towards the distraction. When we intentionally turn our attention towards what is distracting us, it is then no longer a distraction but just another experience within the realm of Awareness to be known. We can clarify this movement of attention by labelling the distraction appropriately in terms of our experience of it by using labels such as:
'aching, aching' and so on.
In MIDL, if thinking is prevalent in our seated meditation practice we do not fight against it but rather turn our effort towards observing the moment our attention moves towards a thought. At first when we do this we cannot observe the beginning of the thought process but rather find ourselves lost within the thinking itself - this is ok.
When we notice that we have been lost within a thought we acknowledge it by using a simple label such as 'thinking, thinking' to separate us from the process and we observe the dissolution of thinking itself that arises through disengagement of Awareness. We may also reflect on the difference in the experience of Awareness between being lost within the thought and the clarity that we are experiencing now after we realised that we were lost.
If a thinking pattern arises again and again during our meditation it is then helpful to clarify the emotional charge that is feeding it. This is done by observing and labelling the type of thinking that is present such as: 'planning, planning',
doubting, doubting etc.
Whatever is driving the thinking process.
When we notice the emotional charge within the thinking process we use the MIDL Softening Into skill to relax our relationship to it. When the thought dissolves through the relaxing of our participation we then come back to the experience of breathing again.
If we notice tightness within the breathing it signifies some sort of control. Maybe we are putting in too much effort into Concentrating or our Stress Response has switched on so our breathing is tightening. If we notice tightening of breathing then we gently breathe out through our nose, relaxing with the out-breath and wait for the breath to autonomously draw in. We can train this in MIDL Mindfulness Training 06/52: The Natural Breath. When the breath draws in by itself we can clearly notice the difference as natural breathing engages again.
With practice it becomes easier to align with and experience the sensations within breathing, our next task is to use this clarity to develop some accuracy of our attention. We start by observing the very beginning of each breath.
Can you notice the very moment the in-breath begins?
Can you notice the moment the out-breath begins?
Can you notice the point of change - the transition - between the direction of the in-breath and the direction of the out-breath?
Paying attention to these beginnings make us more aware of the full length of the in-breath and the full length of the out-breath.
At this stage, we continue to develop Mindfulness of Breathing in this way. We experience the very beginning of the in-breath, we experience its length and clearly see its end. We observe the gap between the in-breath and out-breath. We experience the very beginning of the out-breath, we experience its length and clearly see its end.
In MIDL Mindfulness meditation the endings of all experience are important to observe. It is the deep understanding that arises through the perception of impermanence that trains the mind not to grasp onto experience. To develop the perception of impermanence we place all our effort towards experiencing the very moment each out-breath ends, beginning of the in-breath, feel the length of the in-breath, change between in-breath and out-breath, feel the length of the out-breath, notice the ending of the out-breath.
When doing this we always find 'grounding' within the MIDL Viewing Platform of the sensate quality of our body. We also use Mindfulness of Breathing to observe the impermanence of distractions. Whenever our attention is drawn towards a thought, sound, sensation etc, we intentionally apply our Awareness to that distraction and observe our minds relationship towards it. We relax any effort within the mind and observe the distraction dissolve, that it, like all other experience has the characteristic of impermanence.
In MIDL all of this is done in a relaxed way, we never try to force our attention through trying to Concentrate endings of things. Magnification and clarity of Awareness is something that happens naturally due to the development of Concentration. Our only task is to maintain the strength of Mindfulness needed to keep the experience within mind. If we put in too much effort our mental energy levels will become too high and we will experience mental and physical restlessness.
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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