I am giving these series of talks to help clarify the path of MIDL.
CLICK HERE Audio Version of this Talk
When practicing mindfulness of breathing in MIDL, it is first important to develop a viewing platform to observe it from. This viewing platform as practiced in earlier trainings is the immersion of awareness within the sensate quality of our body.
So to start your mindfulness of breathing you sit down and you start a process of grounding. Ground within the sounds around you. And in this case, we ground within the change within sound. We focus on how sound comes and it goes. Focusing on sound within this way grounds our attention and removes sound as a distraction for our meditation practice.
As we become more present we then bring our attention within. First into any feeling of warmth or coolness within our body. We use this as a grounding point. And this is just the general feeling of warmth or coolness, nothing specific. Our attention settles even more. It is grounded. From this reference point we notice when our attention moves.
We then bring the awareness down to any points of touch: the experience of our hands touching each other, maybe the pressure of our arms resting on our legs, and the pressure of our body sitting in the chair or resting on the floor, the touch of the feet. These points of touch are the next grounding point for our attention. Again, we hold them gently in mind and observe when our attention moves away from them.
Once our mind is settled down even more, we then widen our awareness throughout the whole of our body and relax within the body to allow awareness to immerse within it. This then creates our viewing platform for mindfulness of breathing.
From this stage we then relax our chest and our belly. It is really interesting how much tension we hold in our chest and our belly, and how this affects our breathing. In particular, when practicing Mindfulness in Daily Life, we bring the craziness of our world in with us, in to our seated meditation. So any tension or tightness we build up, any stress we build up throughout the day, appears within our body and affects our breathing.
If you find your breathing is in your chest rather than in your belly, it can be helpful to take three slow breaths in your belly and letting the breath out very very slowly to re-engage the diaphragm. This will temporarily turn off the stress response and allow you to experience natural breathing.
So we immerse our awareness within our body. Grounded here, now. We relax our chest and belly. And then 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. At this stage, however the breathing appears to you is correct. One day it may be more clear at the tip of the nose, another at the chest, another at the belly. It doesn’t matter. Your only task is just to be aware of the sensations within. Be aware of the sensations within your breathing.
While experiencing the breathing, always keep a general awareness of your body in mind. Of your grounding point. Of your viewing platform. This will lessen the times that your mind wanders. This will help the activity of your mind to settle down. Give you a reference point to ‘now’. Your only task now is to be very very present. To just be with what you are experiencing. To help develop your concentration it can be helpful to use a simple label:
As your breath comes in, just silently to yourself, you can just say “In”. As your breath goes out, silently to yourself say “Out”.
So we will just try that right now. Eyes close over gently. Being aware of sound. Being aware of its change. Becoming aware of any feeling of warmth or coolness within your body. Grounding your attention within it. Opening your awareness to the touch of your hands, the touch of your arms on your body, the pressure of your body on the chair or on the floor. Anchoring your attention. Widening your awareness, keeping all these points of touch in mind.
Feeling the heaviness arise within your body as it relaxes, relaxing with that heaviness into your body. Becoming aware from your body. Relaxing your chest and belly, allow your breathing to flow freely and naturally. The breath comes in - silently say “In”. The breath goes out - silently say “Out”.
At some stage while practicing mindfulness of breathing your attention will wander. It will wander to a sound, to a thought, to a pain in your body. Your attention will wander and you will become distracted. If you do in MIDL practice, this is OK. A distraction is only a distraction if we don’t want it to be there. Your task in MIDL is not to push the distraction away, but rather to acknowledge it. Whenever you notice that your attention has moved to a sound, to a thought, to a fantasy, when it moves to anything away from your breathing - your task is only to acknowledge it, to acknowledge it and make the distraction for the time of its appearance your meditation object.
You can do this by clarifying it with a label. And a label is using a very simple word, like we did with the breath - saying “In” and “Out”. We use a very simple word to point our attention. If your attention shifts towards a sound and you recognise it, just silently say “Hearing, hearing”. Acknowledging the sound by using the label “Hearing, hearing” withdraws the immersion of your awareness within the sound. And you are able then to observe your relationship to the sound, and soften that relationship. Also acknowledge thinking or fantasising in this way - you notice you have wandered off into a thought or a fantasy and you may use the label “Thinking, thinking” or maybe “Fantasising, fantasising”.
This acknowledgement by using the label withdraws awareness from the thought, from the fantasy. Allows you to observe it. Allows you to be with your relationship to that thought or fantasy. Observe that relationship, soften with a few breaths and then come back to your mindfulness of breathing. Awareness immersed within your body, relax the chest and belly, breathing moving freely up and down within your body.
This is the basic dance of your mindfulness of breathing. Now when observing the breath be careful not to observe the breathing itself. Rather you should observe the sensate quality of the breathing. This is what is important. Start to break the breathing up into sensations, not by thinking about it, but more like just feeling it. Just feel and know any sensations of warmth or coolness within the breath, movement, vibration, tension, hardness, softness. Also know whether the breath is relaxed or whether it is tense.
If you notice the breath it tight, it signifies control. Maybe you are putting in too much effort and becoming stressed and the stress response is switched on so your breathing is tightened. If you notice this, then gently breathe out through your nose, relax and wait like in exercise 06/52, and gently wait for the breath to come in by itself. As you do this you will notice the diaphragm engage, pull the breath in, and the natural breathing will appear to you again. It will be gentle and light.
Once you are in tune with the sensations within the breathing, your next task is to develop some accuracy. Start to notice the very beginning of each breath. Can you notice the very moment the breath begins? Also start to notice the very beginning of each out-breath. 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 will make you more aware of the full length of the in-breath and the full length of the out-breath.
At this stage, continue to develop the awareness of the breath in this way. Notice the beginning of the in-breath - the very moment it arises. And then mentally feel the length of the in-breath. Notice the point of change between the in-breath and the out-breath - the very moment it begins. And mentally feel the full length of the out-breath. Keep doing this until the full lengths of each breath are very clear to you.
To develop this further, you then start to notice the very moment the 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, always do it from the viewing platform of your body. If your concentration naturally develops and your attention focuses in on the breath, this is OK. But never try to force your attention in closely on the breathing. It you do this your energy levels will get too high, your mind will become restless, and you will have a lot more distraction.
The process of observing breathing in this way will start to develop some concentration. And, as the concentration develops, you will start to suppress the Five Hindrances to meditation - that is the desire to experience (so, attraction), the desire to not experience (aversion), mental sluggishness (staleness, low energy in your practice), mental restlessness (that is too much energy in your practice), and doubt (doubting your own ability, doubting the practice, doubting your teacher). All of these need to be suppressed for the mind to settle, to become clear.
Once some concentration has been developed and the Five Hindrances suppressed, and the mind and heart have started to settle down, in MIDL we then change the way that we perceive the breathing. Normally when we watch breathing, we see it as coming in though the nose, into the belly, and back out again. This is our experience of breathing.
But in our mindfulness meditation practice, we need to change this perception. To do this we widen our awareness within the whole of our body. Instead of observing how the breathing comes in and out of our body, we start to notice how our body responds to breathing. As the breath comes in our body expands outwards. As the breath goes out our body contracts inwards. This then becomes the basis for observing heart and mind. As concentration starts to develop and the Five Hindrances suppressed, your heart and mind will start to settle down. This settling will bring about clarity, become more mentally clear, mentally still, and actually be quite peaceful and tranquil.
In MIDL this is not the goal of our practice, it is just one of the many tools. The goal of our practice is to develop wisdom and, while the tranquility is peaceful, it is beautiful - as it develops it will start to suppress our five senses. It will start to shut the five senses down. Since the goal of MIDL is the development of wisdom and the transference of our meditation practice into our daily life, tranquility is not enough. Once the Five Hindrances have been suppressed and the concentration has developed, we then release our grip on the breathing and we allow the Five Hindrances to meditation to come back again.
The Five Hindrances now become our meditation object. And the wisdom is developed on the Six Sense doors and on the Five Hindrances to meditation themselves. The difference being that you are protected by the strength of your mindfulness and concentration. This allows us to make the Five Hindrances to meditation and their interaction with our six senses the object of our meditation practice. The viewing platform for observing the Five Hindrances is developed in the next MIDL training and they will be discussed in the next talk on MIDL practice.
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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