I am giving these series of talks to help clarify the path of MIDL.
CLICK HERE Audio Version of this Talk
During MIDL Mindfulness training 1 - 5, we learnt how to create the foundation for our seated Mindfulness Meditation practice. This foundation is based on learning how to immerse our awareness within the sensate quality of our body, creating our anchor now, here.
Here I am.
And then we learnt the basic softening skills. We learnt how to switch on autonomous breathing. This is natural breathing - creating the foundation for Mindfulness of Breathing in seated meditation and also Mindfulness of Breathing in everyday life.
In exercises 4 and 5, we then learnt basic softening skills. And these skills answer the question - when I am sitting here grounding my awareness within my body and my attention moves, what do I do with it?
When we notice this shift of attention, we observe one thing: “How am I relating to this?”
Whenever you become distracted, your relationship to that distraction is important. The softening skills give us the answer of what to do with that distraction, what to do with that relationship.
The attention has shifted to a thought - it is a thought of worry, of concern. I observe the mind’s relationship to that thought, and I soften.
The attention has shifted to a sound. I observe the mind’s relationship to that sound, and I soften.
The attention has shifted to pain. I observe the mind’s relationship to that pain, and I soften.
So these two foundations work together. You have the first foundation of immersing awareness within the sensate quality of your body, holding you present, now. And you have the answer to the question of what to do when your attention shifts or moves away from this grounding.
And that answer is using the softening skill:
You observe your attention move, you notice your mind’s relationship to what it has moved towards, and you soften. You soften into that relationship. When you soften, that relationship changes and you bring awareness back within the sensate quality of your body.
This then allows us to move onto Mindfulness of Breathing in MIDL. In MIDL when practicing Mindfulness of Breathing, we don’t fix or locate our breathing in any particular area. Wherever the breathing appears to you, is correct. This is how it should be. Instead of fixing the breathing in any place, we allow the mind to actually attract to the breathing at whatever point is clearest to it. The way we do this is by coming into our foundation:
So first, you start off by sitting, feeling the sensate quality of your body, relaxing deeply into your body, immersing awareness within your body. If there is any agitation, restlessness, you can use a few softening breaths - just deeply in….and deeply out. If you are really stressed you can do the diaphragm breathing and just re-engage autonomous breathing as in exercise number 03/52. Once awareness is fully immersed within your body, you feel very grounded, very anchored - then you relax your chest and your belly. Relaxing the chest and the belly is the first aspect of giving up control of breathing. When you do this, your natural breathing will appear to you. You just gently be aware of it as is moves in through the tip of your nose, through your chest, deep into your belly, and as it moves back out again. If some parts of the breathing are not clear to you, that’s ok. It is how it is. Allow it to be.
Just become gently aware of that movement of the breath, of the sensations as your breath moves through your body. We watch this breath as if from a distance. We watch it like we are standing on a mountain watching the villagers walking around. There is no need to look closely at the breath at this stage.
While feeling the breath moving through the centre of your body, always keep the awareness of the sensate quality of your body in mind. Keep full awareness of your whole body just sitting here, and see the breath as a column of sensations moving within that centre, within that foundation.
While doing this, you may start to notice some tightness within the breathing, or awkwardness. The breathing doesn’t seem to flow naturally. This brings us onto MIDL training: The Natural Breath. As mentioned in earlier trainings, our breathing can happen naturally, autonomously, by itself. If it does, then it is light, it is wispy, it is smooth, it is deep.
The breathing can also be controlled by the mind, and the mind often doesn’t want to leave the breathing alone. So when we are approaching mindfulness of breathing, the first thing that we are actually going to find is that the mind loves control, experience.
So, during our first mindfulness of breathing training, the aspect we are working with is control. We need to start deconditioning the desire to control that which doesn’t need to be controlled. We use the breathing to teach us how to do this. Breathing can happen naturally, or we can control the breathing. We use this aspect to observe our mind controlling it.
The training is done by first observing the breathing as it moves up and down within our body. Observing any tightness, any tension, any altering of the breath. To check control, or to work with control, we do one thing: we take a slow breath out through the nose and we relax and wait. When you relax and wait at the end of that out-breath, autonomous breathing will switch on and the breath will draw in by itself.
Now during one of my classes, I had a student who breathed out, relaxed and waited…and after the exercise they told me:
“Stephen, I don’t like this exercise - I nearly suffocated!”
And I started to question why? What’s going on? And they said they breathed out, they relaxed and waited, but they were holding their breath.
So, don’t hold your breath at this point. This is not about control - if you hold your breath, you will pass out!
This is about allowing your breathing to happen naturally, about getting out of the way. So you breath out, relax and wait, and get out of the way. Allow the breathing to come in by itself. Don’t worry - it will. Just allow it to be. You are working with control.
At this point of relaxing and waiting at the end of the out-breath - and you can try it now:
Just slowly breathe out through your nose, relax and wait. You can get out of the way by just immersing your awareness within your body, so you are not watching the breath directly. And notice that at some point the breath draws in by itself.
Notice the breath feels different when it draws in by itself. It may be light and wispy and smooth. And the diaphragm will naturally engage in this breath. We just observe that breath now, naturally, and stay out of its way.
As you observe it, you may notice tightening or tensioning of the breath. That tightness or tension that is appearing is your mind starting to control the breath, your mind not leaving the breath alone. Whenever you are noticing this tightening, this change in the breath - slowly breathe out through your nose, relax and wait. Wait for the breath to come in again by itself.
So, do it now. Breathe out…relax….and wait.
The breath comes in, it draws in. It is long, it is smooth, it is beautiful. The beauty of the breath can appear to you at this point.
See how long you can observe this breath before your mind starts to control it. If you find that your mind keeps controlling the breath at this point - it controls it very quickly - don’t get upset. Getting upset, complaining, that is just more control of the mind. It is not you.
Your mind wants to control everything. If you observe complaining “Oh, I am no good! I can’t do this!” - observe that complaining, notice where it appears in your body as tension, use a softening breath to relax that complaining, relax that control. Re-ground your awareness within your body, feeling the breath moving up and down. Take a slow breath out, relax and wait. And begin again.
When the breath comes in, be with the breath as long as you can with our controlling it. Learn what it means to observe control. Notice that as the breath tightens, it is just a reflection of the mind itself tightening as well. The mind trying to constrict everything around it.
We learn to observe the natural breath. We learn to observe the breath moving throughout out body, the breath free from control, the breath in it’s natural reality.
And we also learn to work with control from the mind. If we can’t observe something like breathing - that we don’t need to control - without controlling it, how can we abandon any control within our daily life? How can we abandon our control over ourselves? Over our partner? Over our children? Over our workplace? How can we remove ourselves from this cause of much suffering in our life?
We observe the control of the breathing; we allow the breath to be a barometer to teach us about control. And we decondition control within the mind through the breath. And it creates our foundation for mindfulness of breathing in our seated MIDL practice, and also dissolves control in daily life.
© Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved
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