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In MIDL we can divide Mindfulness of Breathing into two distinct stages:
1. Development of Initial Fixed Concentration to suppress the Five Hindrances, settling the mind and increasing clarity of Awareness.
2. Development of Momentary Concentration that arises when we relax our Initial Fixed Concentration and allow our attention to move for cultivating the conditions for Wisdom to arise.
To build Initial Fixed Concentration in MIDL, we take our meditation posture then start a process of immersing awareness within the sensate quality of our body, 'grounding' within it. We do this by tuning into the experience of our posture: aware of warmth, coolness, the touch of our hands, body, and feet, aware of our whole body just sitting here. Relaxing into the awareness of the sensate quality of our body immerses awareness within it.
Once awareness is 'grounded' we can begin Mindfulness of Breathing. We relax our chest and belly and just experience the sensate flow of the breathing as it appears within our body. We don't try to locate breathing anywhere but rather just tune into the purity of the experience, wherever it appears.
Experiencing breathing in this way we may feel it enter through the tip of our nose, move through our chest, deep into our belly, and flow back out again. Just a simple natural breath. The experience of breathing moving within our body.
As mindfulness and concentration develop through this bare attention we start to become more aware of the flow of sensations associated with breathing. At this stage we focus on relaxing any effort and just allow ourselves to become intimate with them. We may also find that our attention starts wandering off from these sensations to other experiences such as thoughts and sounds. A simple mental label, such as ‘in’ and ‘out’ concurrent with the experience of each breath and ‘thinking’, ‘hearing’ etc to clarify where awareness has wandered to is all that is necessary.
Once some mindfulness and concentration have developed we are ready to begin pure MIDL mindfulness meditation. In order to develop wisdom it is necessary to change the way that we perceive the experience of breathing. Instead of observing breathing as it flows in and out of our body, we start to observe the experience of our body responding to breathing.
You can try it now:
Sit down, you do not need to close your eyes, take a gentle breath in, and let a slow breath out, relax and wait. Allow the next in-breath to draw in naturally.
When the breath draws in, notice you can experience it as a column of sensations moving from your nose, to your chest, into your belly, and back out again.
Stay calmly with this flow of sensations of breathing for a few minutes.
Now start to widen your awareness throughout the whole of your body. Becoming aware of the area of your shoulders, upper chest and upper back in particular.
What can you experience there?
Observe how your body responds to breathing.
As the breath draws in, your body fills and expands outwards. As the breath goes out, your body deflates and contracts inwards.
Your body inflates, it deflates. It expands, it contracts.
Notice how you can change the way that you experience breathing by widening awareness throughout your body. If you observe breathing from the centre of your body, you will experience breathing as coming in and going out. But if you observe breathing from the outside of your body you will notice that when the breath draws in, your body actually expands out, and as your breath goes out, your body actually contracts back in again.
Our task during this stage is to develop the perception of the movement of our body as it responds to breathing. We are now switching from a concentration based meditation to a mindfulness based one. This is the start of creating our MIDL Viewing Platform for cultivating Wisdom.
It can be helpful to develop this perception by individually focusing on different areas within our body. First building the perception of movement within our shoulders and upper chest, then widening awareness to the upper back, side of our ribs and abdomen. We develop this perception until we can experience breathing as moving evenly in all directions throughout our body.
An important note: If the expansion of breathing throughout our body is not clear then we then do not strive to make it so. Awareness like everything else can be clear or dull, it comes and it goes. The clarity and presence of awareness is necessary for the clarity of perception, this clarity and presence is not under our control. However the breathing presents itself to us is correct, with continued practice we start to observe that this too also changes.
MIDL mindfulness meditation is not concerned with increasing clarity of breathing but rather in developing sensitivity to the awareness that is experiencing the breathing and the relationship to the actual experience. If we feel confused, full of doubt or are striving for breathing to be a certain way, then this confusion, doubt and striving is now our object of meditation - observing these qualities of mind is what cultivates wisdom - not observing breathing. It is important to avoid the trap in mindfulness meditation of thinking that the meditation object is more important than the awareness of the observing itself.
Once we have developed the perception of the in-breath expanding outwards, we then start to develop the perception of the out-breath contracting inwards. We do this in the same way. We become aware of our shoulders, of our upper chest - we experience the contracting of the out-breath there. Our upper back, side of our ribs and our abdomen also contract. We experience our body evenly expanding outwards on the in-breath and contracting evenly on the out-breath. We stay with this perception of expansion and contraction of our body as it responds to breathing.
To clarify this perception we align awareness with the beginning of the expansion of the in-breath; we follow the breath all the way to its end. Then we align awareness with the contraction of the out-breath and also follow it all the way to the end. We can liken this to sliding down a slide - our body contacts the slide and we slide all the way along the slide down to the bottom. In this way awareness contacts the breath and we mentally slide along its length until the end.
As we observe breathing in this way we start to experience the full length of each expansion and the full length of each contraction. During this phase we do not control breathing in any way. Our breathing should be completely autonomous. We learnt earlier in our MIDL training how to switch off the Stress Response and re-engage autonomous breathing in MIDL Mindfulness Training 03/52 and how to decondition control in MIDL Mindfulness Training 06/52.
We allow breathing to happen naturally. We need natural, uncontrolled breathing because in this way it can reflect the mind for cultivation of wisdom. This relationship of reflection between the mind and breathing is essential in MIDL. The natural refining of breathing in relationship to the state of mind present is essential in developing mindfulness of Breathing. We just observe how our body responds to it and align awareness with the movement of the body.
Once awareness is fully aligned with the expansion and contraction of our body we bring in the MIDL Softening Into skills that we cultivated earlier and apply them in two ways:
1. Every time the breath comes in, we 'open' with the expansion. We 'open' to whatever we are experiencing 'now'. This 'opening' is a process of opening the heart. We allow our self to experience whatever is present to us. Fully, without judgement. If judgement is present within our mind we also allow that to be there, we experience it fully.
It may be sounds, sensations, pleasant or unpleasant feelings, thoughts, memories, judgements, likes, dislikes and emotions – we open to any experience that arises at the Six Sense Doors. We 'open' the heart to it. We just sit down, we align awareness with the breath, and on the opening in-breath, the expanding in-breath, we experience what there is to experience. We allow everything to just be there.
2. As the breath goes out, our body contracts inwards, we 'Soften'. Relaxing along the length of the out-breath, the length of that contraction. The breath comes in, we 'open', we 'open' to all experience, 'now'. The breath goes out we 'Soften', relaxing deeply - like following the length of the slide. We 'Soften', relaxing deeply into our relationship to what we are experiencing 'now'.
The breath comes in, expanding, 'open'.
The breath goes out, deeply 'Soften', relaxing into our experience.
MIDL is a path of Softening, of Softening all resistance, of Softening all fight, of Softening all judgement, of Softening all likes and dislikes. We neither fight nor run away. We just allow ourselves to experience what is present to us.
The breath comes in, we 'open', we experience deeply what is present to us. The breath goes out, we 'Soften'. We 'Soften' and deeply relax into whatever experience is present to us. We 'Soften', relax, deeply into our relationship to that experience. In this way the heart and mind start to refine and weaken in defensive behaviour.
As all resistance dissolves, it brings us deeply inwards. We follow the contraction of the out-breath inwards, in towards the heart centre, into the very place where the mind does not want to live, the place that the mind is separated from. We 'Soften' deeply into the pain within our heart. Our task now is to Soften and draw the mind in, ever inwards, into the hearts centre. We 'open', we 'Soften', we 'Soften' inward.
As we 'Soften' inward, we will come to the end of the out-breath. At the end of the out-breath, there is a pause. There is a pause between the out-breath and the in-breath. At this stage our mind is more refined, more still. We follow the out-breath to the end and we sit in the gap. As we sit in the gap; autonomously the breath draws in again.
We observe the breath draw in, the beginning of the in-breath, we follow it, we slide down the out-breath and into the gap again. We see the out-breath end, we see the gap, and we see the in-breath begin. We allow ourselves to sit in this gap. As the mind and the breath refine, the gap extends, the stillness of the gap starts to fill us. The mind and heart become very still. Out-breath - breath ends – gap – stillness - in-breath begins.
Within this stillness the ending of the out-breath and the beginning of the in-breath become clear to us. End – stillness - beginning. We start to perceive the ending of things. We just see end – still - begin. End – still - begin. The perception of impermanence starts to imprint on our mind. At this stage the length of the in-breath and the out-breath become less clear. The ending of the breath, the stillness, and the beginning of the in-breath become clearer to us. We just sit in this gap; we refine this perception, and allow stillness to fill the heart and the mind.
It is not always necessary to develop stillness within the gap. If, when we sit down to meditate and are experiencing stress, anxiety, difficult emotions then it’s OK just to bring mindfulness to the expansion and contraction of our body. We will get more value in this way if we sit with that which is difficult to be with, Softening into our relationship to it, rather than trying to run away within the gap. We just 'Open', 'Soften'.
Just allowing our self to be open and just allowing our self to feel whatever we are experiencing now, to experience our vulnerability. Softening deeply with the out-breath into that experience. We actually develop more wisdom this way. Wisdom is developed by allowing our self to be, allowing experience to be. The breath comes in, body expands. The breath goes out, body contracts. Opening to the experience, feeling it.
We start to question our experience.
What are the sensations within our body?
What are the sensations within that emotional quality?
We notice the unpleasantness of those sensations, the unpleasantness of the experience of difficult emotion. We Soften, relax, deeply into our dislike of this experience. We Soften, relax, deeply with that out-breath, any struggle that we feel. In-breath, 'open', experience. Out-breath, 'Soften', Soften relax deeply into dislike, into struggle. Allowing whatever we are experiencing to be there. It’s OK. Opening to the mental restlessness, opening to the doubts, opening to the pain within our heart. Opening, deeply experiencing it. Softening, relaxing deeply into it, into our resistance.
In this way, the expansion and contraction of breathing can be understood in two ways:
1. If at the stage of expanding and contracting nothing is disturbing us, nothing is drawing our attention away from the experience of breathing, then we follow the breath to the end, sit in the stillness, and observe the beginning of the in-breath. We allow concentration to become very, very deep.
2. But if at the stage of expanding and contracting the heart is disturbed - we are being drawn out to sounds, to thoughts, to difficult emotions, pain within our body - then we use the movement of expansion and contraction to 'open' and 'Soften' into the experience. We 'Soften', we relax deeply into the experience, we dissolve all resistance. It is this deep Softening, this deep acceptance that allows our mind and heart to settle, allows the mind and heart to join together, allows the mind to sink into hearts centre, for there to be peace, for struggle to end.
In this way Mindfulness of Breathing becomes our MIDL Viewing Platform from which to observe heart and mind, our Viewing Platform from which to develop wisdom, from which to change the heart, to change to mind, to experience peace.
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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