In MIDL Mindfulness Training 7/52 you begin mindfulness of breathing by observing the breath as its flows autonomously through your body. Your ability to observe breathing free from control was refined in the previous training. Your focus now should be on developing the strength of your mindfulness and concentration. To do this it is not important to place your attention in any one location but rather to be clearly aware of the experience of breathing as a flow of sensations within your body. To aid in this you use basic labels such as "in" "out" and "wandering" in order to focus your attention. Submit Your Question
Your Question: One of my struggles is trying to watch the breath from a distance. I'm not able to achieve that view. Can you please provide me with some direction on how to do that?
Stephen Procter: There are two aspects to observing our breathing in MIDL mindfulness meditation. There are the sensations of breathing that arise as it moves through our body and there is the awareness of the mind that knows the experience of those sensations. To watch the breath from a distance is to be aware of the awareness of the sensations of the breathing rather than just focusing on the breathing itself. It is a shift from focusing on the sensations of breathing to the knowing quality of awareness.
To learn to observe the awareness of your breathing it is first beneficial to train your ability to observe natural breathing, free from control. When control is present within your mind then your focus will be so intent on your breathing that the awareness that knows the experience of breathing will not be clear to you. Begin with MIDL Mindfulness Training 6 / 52: Experiencing the Natural Breath where you will learn to relax your control of your breathing.
This is done by gently breathing out through your nose, relaxing and then waiting for the breath to come in 'by itself'. You will then be able to observe natural, uncontrolled breathing without interference; relaxing any interference which appears as tension or tightness within your breathing. This training will separate the awareness of breathing from the experience of breathing and you will start to observe from a distance.
You can then move on to MIDL Mindfulness Training 7/52: Experiencing the Whole Breath. During this training you keep your awareness grounded within the experience of your body as it sits: warmth, coolness, heaviness and touch. This creates your observing platform for mindfulness of breathing. Once awareness is grounded in your body you then relax your chest and belly and allow the breathing to flow freely. While keeping awareness of your whole body as it sits you will then be able to feel the flow of breathing as it moves within the experience of your body, as if from a distance.
As your practice deepens you will start to become aware of the awareness of your body and the awareness of your breathing. This transition from the object of awareness to becoming aware of the awareness itself happens naturally with the development of mindfulness and concentration. Having a foundation to observe from, such as mindfulness of your body as developed in these above trainings, makes this transition easier.
Your Question: I was wondering about one comment you made in this meditation something to the effect that when my mind wanders, I should say “thinking” until the thought dissolves. Does that mean that I should stay with that thought until my mind quits with it, rather than directing my mind back to my meditation object/my breath as soon as I recognize that my mind has wandered?
Stephen Procter: To understand this it is helpful to understand the purpose of your meditation. If you are doing a concentration practice to develop tranquillity then your task is to ignore anything that draws your attention away from your primary meditation object as it will interfere with the development of concentration. In the case of mindfulness meditation however, distraction is not ignored but rather is to be understood - distraction is the content of the meditation practice and where we cultivate Wisdom.
Your meditation objects primary purpose during MIDL mindfulness meditation is as a reference point, as a grounding point, from which to observe your attention move. The movement of your attention is what needs to be observed and the experience of whatever your attention moves towards - such as a thought / sound / sensation - needs to be 'tasted' for Wisdom to arise.
A label is an intentional thought that we create that has the purpose of directing our attention towards the current experience and clarifies our awareness of it. In terms of when we have been distracted by thinking using the label 'thinking' clarifies where our attention has shifted to and creates separation between the thought and the awareness. We cannot think two thoughts at once so the intentional thought (the label), cancels out the habitual unintentional thought.
Once labelled a gap will be created in the habitual thought stream and it will most likely dissolve under the awareness of your mindfulness. The most important part to observe is the impermanent and impersonal nature of your habitual thought process. Once you have observed these aspects and ‘tasted’ what it feels like now that the thought has dissolved, you can then return to your primary meditation object with your effort towards observing the next time your attention moves.
If the habitual thinking continues to draw your attention away from your primary meditation object than it is more skilful to make the restlessness of the thinking itself your meditation object. By widening your awareness, grounding it within your body and allowing your mind to run wild the restlessness can be observed and will settle when its fuel runs out. If however habitual thinking continues but does not draw your attention towards it then it is enough just to know that there is restlessness within your mind and to relax into your primary meditation object.
Your Question: How do I know when I have developed enough concentration to suppress the five hindrances, is this when perception of my body ceases?
Stephen Procter: The function of perception (sanna) is to recognise an experience "I know what this is". When concentration becomes one pointed the function of perception can be suppressed and the recognition of experience at the six senses ceases. Firstly it is important to understand that during MIDL mindfulness meditation it is not necessary for you to develop the level of your concentration to the stage that perception ceases. This may happen during meditation but it is not necessary.
This fading of perception however can be used as a sign to know when enough concentration has been developed in order to temporarily suppress the five hindrances to meditation. Sounds may become distant and lose meaning, your body may become comfortable with no borders and thoughts lose their attraction and meaning. This suppression through the development of concentration leads to temporary clarification of awareness in order to observe reality.
It is from this stage that you switch from developing concentration for tranquillity, to pure mindfulness meditation by investigating your experience in order to develop understanding. This is done by switching from suppressing the five hindrances through fixed concentration, to allowing the hindrances to arise and your mind to wander. By observing the wandering itself and the elemental quality of any hindrances present within it, understanding of the mind in terms of the three characteristics can be developed.
Your Question: I am still having a hard time following the breath without the need to control it, what should I do?
Stephen Procter: You noticing that you are controlling your breathing seemingly unintentionally is a good thing, it is a sign that your mindfulness meditation practice is progressing. This desire to control breathing is not to be gotten rid of but to be understood, it is at this point that you can train yourself to be able to observe the breath without this habitual interference.
You can train yourself in two ways:
1) When you notice habitual interference within the breathing process use your softening skills as trained earlier in MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 3 – 5/52 and breathe out slowly through your nose to relax your participation. After this softening out-breath you then wait for the breath to come in naturally, by itself, triggered by your brain.
At first some fear may arise that you will not breathe in. This is also ok; this is just your fear of giving up control. Relax / soften into the fear and wait again for the in-breath to draw in. This is the game we play with retraining defensive patterns within our mind. During this training we are using breathing because it reflects defensive habits of our mind, in this case the fear of giving up control. It is this fear that you are working with and this fear that makes it difficult to observe breathing free from control.
After breathing out always make sure that you are not trying to control by holding your out-breath; just relax and wait. When the breath comes in by itself it will appear as what I call the natural breath. It will be long, smooth, light and wispy - beautiful. This beautiful breath may continue for a number of breaths or it may tighten after the first, this does not matter. The breathing is doing its job; it is reflecting the state of your mind. Repeat this exercise and learn what it means to soften / relax your participation. Relax, relax, relax, this is your current path.
2) Now that your breathing is happening naturally you can observe it as it moves throughout your body and be aware of any interference that appears within it. You will also be able to notice any over effort in your watching, this will also appear as a tightening within the breathing. When you notice tightening use your skill in softening to mentally relax any effort present by releasing a slow, gentle breath out through your nose. Then again wait for the in-breath to draw in by itself. In this way you will un-train this desire to control that which doesn't need to be controlled. This is particularly targeted in the previous MIDL Mindfulness Training 6/52.
Your Question: My meditation practice is currently in the doldrums, very sporadic and I feel as though I am spinning my wheels. Thank you for your response previous Stephen and the reminder that mindfulness is now. It has nothing to do with what I have or haven't done. I am aware of the breath right now.
Stephen Procter: The usual cause of the meditation practice 'spinning its wheels' is a weakness in the factors of investigation & mindfulness. Mindfulness brings the present experience to mind, free from delusion and it is investigation that makes the meditation practice endlessly interesting. While mindfulness remembers to remember, when combined with a sense of investigation it turns from the sensate experience to observing the awareness of the relationship towards it. Mindfulness meditation is all about observing relationship towards the experience rather than the actual experience itself.
While the factor of mindfulness can simply be seen as remembering to remember, as you said "I am aware of the breath right now", there needs to be much more to the meditation practice than just watching the breath come in and out, if we want to cultivate wisdom.
We can think of the function of mindfulness in different ways:
1. We remember to remember.
2. We remember to remember what we are doing now.
3. We remember to remember our experience of what we are doing now.
4. We remember to remember our relationship towards our experience of what we are doing now.
5. We remember to remember to soften into our relationship towards our experience of what we are doing now.
MIDL mindfulness meditation applies mindfulness using stage 5, it is only by applying investigation and mindfulness in this way that we can observe and decondition habitual patterns.
If we are just mindful of the breath as in "I am aware of the breath right now", we will develop one-pointed concentration, but we will not develop any understanding of the mind and its relationship towards the world. If wisdom is our goal rather than just concentration, than we will benefit more by using mindfulness of the experience of the breath as a reference point from which to observe our minds relationship towards what is being experienced.
You said: "My meditation practice is currently in the doldrums, very sporadic and I feel as though I am spinning my wheels."
From the viewpoint of developing concentration this is a hindrance, from the viewpoint of cultivating wisdom in regards to habits within your heart and mind, this is the content of your meditation practice. When this or any other relationship arises during your meditation, particularly aversion based, it is your task as a meditator to make that relationship the object of investigation and soften into your relationship towards it. This creates the path of deconditioning.
So when practicing mindfulness of breathing to cultivate wisdom we can change the way we are meditating to no. 5 in this way:
1. We remember to remember.
2. We remember to remember the breath right now.
3. We remember to remember our experience of the breath right now.
4. We remember to remember our relationship towards our experience of the breath right now.
5. We remember to remember to soften into our relationship towards our experience of the breath right now.