In MIDL Mindfulness Training 12/52 you intentionally develop your perception of impermanence by changing the way that you perceive breathing. In the previous training you developed the skill of abandoning all participation with the deflation of your out-breath, this draws awareness inward. In this training you then turn your attention towards developing clarity of the end of each out-breath. As the end of the out-breath clarifies you can than observe a gap between the breaths before you experience the arising of the beginning of the in-breath. As this develops all you see is "end - gap - begin". Submit Your Question
Your Question: In this session, I’m struggling to identify “the gap” because the distinction between out breath and in breath is almost indiscernible at the transition. I feel like any gap I do notice is one I’m making by consciously pausing between breaths. Suggestions welcomed.
Stephen Procter: It is important at this stage of practice to not be controlling your breathing in any way. Your breathing should be moving autonomously through your body; free from control. It is only with autonomous breathing that you will be able to experience the natural pause between the out-breath and the in-breath.
In the beginning do not try to experience the gap between the breaths but rather learn to align your awareness with the deflation of your body with the out-breath. Be aware of the out-breath all the way to the end and clarify the very moment the out-breath ends. As the end of the out-breath clarifies in this way and your accuracy and mindfulness become more stable then the gap will appear for you naturally.
And if it doesn't it doesn't really matter, what is most important is to learn the skill of softening your relationship towards whatever is happening 'now'and allowing things to be as they are. If this means not seeing the gap clearly at this time then that is ok, it is just as it is meant to be. It is with this relationship to your meditation practice that clarity will slowly open to you.
Your Question: Am I over thinking, Stephen? When you say I should focus just on the end of the breath/gap/beginning, and then just the gap, I find myself wondering where my attention should be when my breathing is on the way to and out of the gap?
Stephen Procter: Yes you are over thinking it. This particular exercise is training accuracy of attention and is dependent of the development of concentration, mindfulness and the skill of 'Softening'.
The basis for observing the 'gap' comes from the training of 'Softening' / deeply relaxing - in alignment with - the deflation of the out-breath. This draws the mind into the (emotional) 'hearts center' and is a basis for learning to 'Soften Into' responses with the breathing throughout the day.
To observe the 'gap' allow your awareness to sit on the deflation of the out-breath in the same way that your bottom would stick to a children's slide (in Australia we call it a Slippery Dip) as you go slide down it. Relax along the length of the whole out-breath and then the ending, gap, and beginning of the in-breath will become clear to you. You do not need to do anything at all just deeply relax and 'Soften' in line with the out-breath.
Your Question: I find it tough to focus just on the ending-gap-beginning and eventually just the gap without being aware of the rest of the breath, especially after developing that of the full breath for several months. Could you provide an advice for this, or am I misunderstanding the instruction for this part?
Stephen Procter: This stage of mindfulness of breathing in MIDL heads into the area where we no longer control the meditation process. The skill taught in MIDL Mindfulness Training 12/52 is not something that we do but rather a result of not doing anything at all. The ending of the out-breath - the gap - and the beginning of the in-breath only appear when all mental processes settle and Stillness begins to arise within the mind; it requires refinement.
The basis is found in two things: accuracy of awareness aligned with the deflation of the out-breath to its very end and refined MIDL Softening skill to calm all mental and physical effort. It is this calming and following the deflation of the out-breath right to the end, with no control over the breathing or expectation as to what you want to achieve that will clarify the ending of the out-breath. Any effort towards experiencing the ending - the gap- and the beginning of the next breath will increase energy levels and create agitation within your mind. The guided meditation is only created as a template, at this stage refinement in particular in the Softening and Stillness skill is needed.
This is all about abandoning effort.
If the whole of the breath remains clear to you it does not matter, just stay with the whole breath but focus on training accuracy on awareness of the complete length of the uncontrolled inflation and deflation and the Softening skill of abandoning all effort.
If this training is getting in your way then abandon it, move onto MIDL 13/52 and use the skill of being with the whole breath as your viewing platform from which you develop your skill in investigation. You do not need to master MIDL 12/52 for your practice to deepen, each of us is different and we dance with our individual skills. Some of my students are skilled in Attention, some in Softening and others in Stillness, we all have different tendencies but regardless the path will open.
Your Question: Is it undesirable to use imagination or visualization during 12/52 gap observation or breath observation in general? Watching the breath cycle for me as it spontaneously arises creates a visual image of this cycle and my attention moves with this image while corresponding physical movements are taking place at the same time. Should one instead observe exclusively physical sensations?
Stephen Procter: The sensations experienced within breathing are our grounding point to reality and should be the focus of our attention for mindfulness of breathing whilst practicing mindfulness meditation. The knowing that there is visualisation present within the mind is also an experience of reality; the content of the visualisation is not and will cultivate delusion if we allow the mind to take it as a meditation object.
This is because the visualisation will create a perception of permanence where as in mindfulness meditation we develop the perception of impermanence to cultivate Wisdom. . We do not intentionally visualize anything during mindfulness meditation practice but if our mind produces a visual image our task is just to know "my mind is producing a visual image". In this way we do not mistake the commentary of the mind for the reality of the actual experience.