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MIDL 8/52: Developing The Whole Breath


In MIDL Mindfulness Training 8/52 you develop your skill in mindfulness of breathing by becoming aware of whole length of each breath from its beginning, to its middle and end. This is done by intentionally bringing your awareness towards the beginning of each in-breath and the beginning of each out-breath. This naturally develops a clear perception of the length of each breath allowing you to 'rub' awareness along the breaths length creating the basis for the development of one-pointed concentration and the temporary suppression of the five hindrances to meditation. Submit Your Question

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Full Length of Each Breath

Your Question: I don't understand the connection between the training in the Satipatthana Sutta in regards to the breath length and this MIDL Training. In the Satipatthana Sutta it says to be mindful if the breath is long or short but it doesn't say anything about the beginning, middle and end of each breath.

Stephen Procter: From the Satipatthana Sutta
1. "Always mindful they breathe in; mindful they breathe out".
2. "Breathing in long, they know 'I am breathing in long' or breathing out long, they know 'I am breathing out long'. Breathing in short, they know 'I am breathing in short' or .............etc."

The transition towards knowing the length of the breath is the second stage in developing fixed concentration in order to temporarily suppress the grip of the five hindrances within the mind. This has two functions to it:

a) The length of the breath reflects the state of the mind. If the mind is stressed the breathing will be 'short' and shallow. If the mind is relaxed the breathing will be 'long' and deep. The length of the breath will change as the state of mind changes. The meditator in this way can be aware of what calming is needed within the mind by observing the breaths length.

b. To observe the length of the breath we also need to be able to observe it over a perceived period of time. We move from observing one in-breath and one out-breath as in MIDL Mindfulness Training 7/52 to observing the full length of the in-breath and the full length of the out-breath in MIDL Mindfulness Training 8/52. This refers to no. 1 and no. 2 in the above section from the Satipatthana Sutta.

To make this transition in our attention we move awareness from observing the middle of each breath as it draws in and out to observing the beginning of each breath as it arises. When we are aware of the beginning of each breath we then naturally become aware of its middle and its end; we become aware of the full length of each breath. In this way we move from having one ‘noticing’ per breath to many ‘noticings’ along the length of each breath. Literally we now rub awareness along the length of each breath. This is necessary to develop the accuracy and depth of one-pointed concentration.

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Explain This Meditation?

Your Question: Could you please explain this meditation training and how it connects to the previous one. Also does this relate to the breathing section in the Satipatthana Sutta? My mind also tends to wander during this meditation.

Stephen Procter: During MIDL Mindfulness Training 8/52 we develop the skill of moving from basic mindfulness of in & out breathing in MIDL Mindfulness Training 7/52 to more detailed mindfulness of the beginning, middle and end of each breath. This training is the intentional applying of awareness to the full length of each breath in order to develop initial one-pointed concentration and sensitivity to the elemental quality of breathing.

This MIDL training refers to the transition between two trainings in the Satipatthana Sutta:
1. "Always mindful, they breathe in; mindful they breathe out"
2. "Breathing in long, they know, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, they know, 'I am breathing out long.' Or breathing in short, they know, 'I am breathing in short'; or breathing out short, they know, 'I am breathing out short'”

When practicing Satipatthana training no. 1 (MIDL 7/52), we first establish and ground awareness within the sensate quality of our body; this becomes our viewing platform for Mindfulness of Breathing. We then relax our chest and belly and allow the breathing to flow naturally within our body, holding a relaxed awareness of the experience of the movement of the breath within it. At this stage we do not place the breath anywhere or try to look at it closely, it is enough to keep the movement of sensations of the breath within the centre of our body in mind and observe any wandering of attention away from them.

When we transition to Satipatthana training no. 2 (MIDL 8/52), we change the way that we perceive breathing by turning our awareness to the beginning of each breath. Observing the beginning of each breath naturally makes us aware of the full length of each breath. We then keep awareness of the experience of breath in mind along its full length. From the viewing platform of awareness immersed within our body we observe the breaths beginning, middle and end just by increasing the continuity of our awareness with no need to follow the breath.

In regards to wandering:
The wanderings of your attention away from the grounding within your body are normal; this is what the mind does. As a survival response its task is to move between your six senses to make sense of the world. Your training in MIDL is not to stop your mind from wandering but to develop the skill of observing when it wanders; learn to stay on the wild horses back. Within this training of continuous awareness of the length of each breath and observing when your attention wanders, you are strengthening the three mental factors of Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration in preparation for Mindfulness in Daily Life. With practice your ability to notice the wandering of your mind will sharpen and the amount of time you become lost within it will become less.

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How Do I Watch Breathing?

Your Question: Should we anchor our attention in the heaviness & touch of our body and watch the breath loosely during this meditation at the nose>chest>belly, or should the breathing be our main focus as it moves nose > chest > belly with no attention given to the heaviness and touch of our body?

Stephen Procter: During this meditation training there is no need to place your breathing in any particular location. Even though the experience of the breathing may appear to be moving from your nose > chest > belly do not intentionally make your awareness follow the breath.

Instead create a foundation of awareness of your body as it sits. From this foundation of awareness of your body you will become aware of the flow of sensations of breathing within it. There is no need to look closely at these sensations, wherever the experience of breathing is most clear to you at this time is correct. How the breathing appears may change from day to day – from meditation to meditation, this is just as it should be. Sometimes your mind will focus in on the breath at your nose or belly and other times breathing will be a column of sensations within your body.

How the experience of breathing appears is not important, this experience is just being used to train your attention and to observe your mind. What is important is the continuity of the awareness of this experience and the continued mindfulness that remembers this awareness. This is what is being cultivated.

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Mind Wanders Frequently

Your Question:I often feel like a fake meditator because my mind frequently wanders, even after establishing a day practice for over a year. I notice the wandering and go back to my intended focus, but I don't acknowledge the thinking "gently". I just change the channel back so to speak back to the breath. Is this right?

Stephen Procter: There are two ways of practicing:
1. You can focus on one meditation object and ignore all distractions in order to develop one-pointed concentration. In this way distraction is your enemy and is suppressed through developing one-pointedness of attention.
2. Or you can focus on one meditation object and when your attention moves you acknowledge the distraction and use it to develop the skill of observing your attention move to cultivate wisdom. In this way distraction is your friend as it provides the content of your meditation practice.

MIDL mindfulness meditation takes the second approach since it is concerned within cultivating wisdom. When practicing mindfulness meditation it is helpful to understand that your task is not to stop your mind from moving but rather to develop the skill of observing it move. This is why you are giving different meditation objects, so that you can develop your skill in observing any movements of your attention.

The first thing to accept:
The mind does move, it does wander; this is the way it is. The heart beats and the mind thinks, wandering of your mind is an autonomous function, what you are experiencing in meditation is normal. It is the judgement that it shouldn't be this way that is stopping your meditation from deepening, it is this judgement and idea of what meditation should be that makes you feel like a fake meditator. The thought that "my meditation should be peaceful", "my mind should be quiet in meditation", it is these thoughts that cause the restlessness and pain, not what is actually happening. Whatever you are experiencing during meditation is correct, it is all as it should be, how could it be any other way?

Your task during mindfulness meditation is not to stop your mind from thinking, judging, liking, disliking etc, it is to develop the ability to observe these flows of events within your mind, its changing nature. The first step in this is to take one meditation object and place effort into noticing every time your attention shifts away from it to strengthen initial mindfulness. MIDL Mindfulness Training 1/52 is focused on this. When developing your skill in observing your attention move take care to also observe any background resistance towards the wanderings of your attention; softening your relationship towards this resistance.

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