I am giving these series of talks to help clarify the path of MIDL.
CLICK HERE Audio Version of this Talk
In MIDL we can divide mindfulness of breathing in two distinct areas. The first is the building of initial fixed concentration in order to suppress the Five Hindrances to meditation. The second is releasing of those Five Hindrances so they become the object for developing wisdom.
Initially we just experienced the breath as it moved in and out of our body, grounded within our body, feeling our body sitting here, immersing awareness within our body. And then we felt the sensations, the flow of the sensations of the breath as it moved up and down within.
We discussed how we could train our attention by using simple labels, such as ‘In’ and ‘Out’ with each breath. So when experiencing the breath in this way, we experience the breath as coming in through the tip of the nose, through the chest, deep into our belly, and as it goes all the way back out again. Just a simple natural breath. The feeling of the breath moving through our body.
In order to develop wisdom we now change the way that we perceive the breath. Instead of observing the breath as it comes in and out, we change the way that we are aware of our body and observe how our body responds to breathing. So how does your body respond to breathing?
To answer this question, we start by structuring our attention in a certain way. Initially we were sitting here and we were observing the breath as it comes in and out. So awareness is immersed within our body. But our main focus is on the movement of the breath within it. To change the perception of the breathing, what we do is we widen our awareness. So you can try it now:
Just take a gentle breath in, and take a slow breath out, relax and wait.
Allow the breath to draw in naturally. When the breath draws in, notice you can feel it as a column of sensations moving in through the nose, through your chest, into your belly, and back out again.
Now start to widen your awareness throughout the whole of your body. Be aware of your shoulders, your upper chest and upper back in particular.
What can you notice there?
Doing this, you can start to observe how your body responds to breathing. How does your body respond?
As the breath comes in, your body expands outwards. As the breath goes out, your body contracts inwards. Your body inflates, it deflates. Notice how you can change the way that you perceive the breath. If you observe the breath from the centre of your body, you observe the breath as coming in and out. But if you observe the breath from the outside of your body you observe that, when the breath comes in, your body actually moves out and, as your breath goes out, your body actually contracts back in again.
Your task during this stage of MIDL mindfulness of breathing is to develop this perception of the movement of your body as it responds to breathing. This is the start of developing your viewing platform for developing wisdom. We are now switching from a concentration practice to a mindfulness practice. Start to notice how you can feel as your breath comes in that your body expands out.
During this stage we start to develop this perception of this movement of the expansion. It can be helpful to do this by focusing on different areas, first building the perception in the shoulders and the chest, the upper back, the side of your ribs. And noticing it can also be felt in your belly. Develop this perception so you perceive the breath as moving evenly in all directions.
Once you have developed this perception of your in-breath expanding outwards, start to develop the perception of the out-breath contracting inwards. You do it in the same way. You move into your shoulders, your chest - feel it there. Upper back, side of your ribs and into your belly. You feel the breath evenly expand outwards and feel it evenly contract inwards. Staying with this perception of this expansion and contraction of your body with the movement of the breath.
Once you can experience evenly the expansion and contraction of your body, you start to align with the perception of your body breathing, and we do this by aligning with the movement. You start observing the very beginning of the expansion of the in-breath. You follow the breath all the way to its end. And then you align with the contraction of the out-breath and follow it all the way to the end. Liken this to sliding down a slide - your body contacts the slide and you slide all the way along the slide down to the bottom.
In this way you will start to feel the full length of each expansion and the full length of each contraction. During this phase do not control the breathing in any way. The breathing should be autonomous. We did autonomous breathing training in exercises 03/52 and 06/52 in the MIDL 52 mindfulness trainings. The breath should be happening naturally. We need the natural breath because, in this way, the breath can respond and reflect the mind.
If we are controlling the breath in any way, our breathing cannot change to reflect the state of our mind. This relationship between our mind and breathing is essential. This natural refining of the breathing in relationship to the state of mind is essential in developing mindfulness of breathing. So not controlling the breathing, we just observe how our body responds to breathing and we align our awareness with the movement of each breath, or the movement of the body as it responds to the breath.
Once this stage becomes clear to you, you can start to align to the beginning of the breath and follow it - like pushing a swing. When you are pushing a child on a swing, you move with the backward movement to the very end and you wait for the movement to return. So this means refining our alignment with the breath precisely. We follow the in-breath all the way to the end, and we wait, and as the breath goes out we fully align with that breath all the way to the end again. So in this way you are increasing your accuracy, you are increasing your alignment with the breathing.
Once your awareness is fully aligned with the expansion and contraction of your body as a response to breathing, you bring in the MIDL softening skill and we approach it in two ways: every time the breath comes in, you open. You become open to whatever you are experiencing right now. So this is an opening of the heart. Allowing yourself to feel, experience, whatever is there.
Whenever your breath comes in, you open. You open to whatever you are experiencing now. You open the heart. You open the heart and allow yourself to feel whatever is present to you, regardless of what that is. So the breath comes in, your body expands outwards, you open. What are you experiencing now? Sensations, pleasant or unpleasant feeling, thoughts, memories, judgements, likes, dislikes, sounds…all experiences, emotions.
You sit down, you align with the breath, and on the opening in-breath, the expanding in-breath, you experience what there is to experience. You allow everything to be there. As the breath goes out, your body contracts, you soften. You soften, relax along the length of the out-breath, the length of that contraction.
The breath comes in, you open, you open to all experience now. The breath goes out, you soften, relax deeply - like following the length of that swing or the slide. You soften, relax deeply into your relationship to what you are experiencing now. The breath comes in, expanding, open. The breath goes out, deeply soften, relax into your 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 feel deeply, we experience deeply what is present. The breath goes out, we soften. We soften and deeply relax into whatever experience is present. We soften, relax, deeply into our relationship to that experience. In this way the heart and mind will start to refine.
As all resistance dissolves, it brings us deeply inwards. We follow the contraction of the out-breath in, in towards the heart centre, in towards the emotional 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 heart 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 will draw 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 will become more clear to us. End, stillness, beginning. We start to perceive the ending of things. We just see end, still, begin. End, still, begin. This perception of impermanence will start to imprint on the mind. At this stage the in-breath and the out-breath will become less clear. The ending of the breath, the stillness, and the beginning of the breath will become more clear 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 the stillness within the gap. If, when we are sitting down to meditate, we are experiencing stress, anxiety, difficult emotions, if we are experiencing things that are difficult to be with, then it’s OK just to bring the mindfulness of breathing to the expansion and contraction of the body with the breath. We will get more value in this way if we sit with that which is difficult to be with, rather than trying to run away from it within the gap.
Just allow yourself to be open and just allow yourself to feel whatever you are experiencing now, to experience your vulnerability. Soften deeply with the out-breath into that experience. You actually develop more wisdom this way. The wisdom is developed by allowing yourself to be. The breath comes in, body expands. The breath goes out, body contracts. Open to the experience, feel it.
What are the sensations within your body?
What are the sensations within that emotional quality?
Notice the unpleasantness of those sensations, the unpleasantness of that difficult emotion. Soften, relax, deeply into your dislike of this experience. Soften, relax, deeply into with that out-breath, any struggle that you feel. In-breath, open, experience. Out-breath, soften, soften relax deeply into dislike, into struggle. Allow what you are feeling to be there. It’s OK. Open to the mental restlessness, open to the doubts, open to the pain within your heart. Open, deeply feel it. Soften, relax deeply into it, into your resistance.
In this way, the expansion and contraction of our body as a response to breathing can also be broken into two stages. If we get to this stage in our seated meditation practice and nothing is disturbing us, nothing is drawing our attention away from the breathing, then we follow the breath to the end and sit in the stillness, and we observe the ending of the out-breath, the stillness, and the beginning of the in-breath.
We allow the concentration to become very very deep. But if, when we sit down, the heart is disturbed - we are being drawn out to sounds, to thoughts, to fantasies, we are drawn out to difficult emotions, pain within our body or unpleasant feelings, or even pleasant feelings - all of this is then used as a platform to soften into.
If your awareness is being drawn out, if it is being drawn away from the breath, whatever it is being drawn towards, you soften into, you relax deeply into, you dissolve all resistance. It is this deeply 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 heart, for there to be peace, for struggle to end.
In this way, the mindfulness of breathing becomes our viewing platform, our viewing platform from which to observe heart and mind and body, our viewing platform from which to develop wisdom, from which to change the heart, to change to mind, to experience peace.
As we then move on in MIDL training, we will start to focus on developing skills that we use from this viewing platform. These skills will allow us to become more intimate with The Four Satipatthanas - The Four Foundations of Mindfulness.
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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