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Mindfulness of Breathing

Mindfulness of Breathing

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Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

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Published by: Nguyễn Văn Tưởng on Feb 14, 2012
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Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness of Breathing
This meditation practice, in one form or another, is very widespread in the Buddhist world. The particular form taught here — in four stages — is found in the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purity) of thegreat Theravadin scholar, Buddhaghosa, who lived in 5th century India and Sri Lanka. It therefore hasa long pedigree, even if there’s no description in the earliest Buddhist scriptures that correspondsexactly with this form of the practice.This particular version of the Mindfulness of Breathing is mainly aimed to calm and focus themind, and is therefore what is known as a samatha (Sanskrit, shamatha), or calming practice rather thana vipassana, or insight, one. The Sanskrit equivalent to the word vipassana is vipashyana and bothwords mean insight, or truly seeing the nature of reality.The traditional name for this meditation practice is Anapanasati. This word simply meansmindfulness (sati) of breathing (pana) in and out. This is a meditation practice where we use the breathas the object of attention to which we return every time we notice that the mind has wandered.In a nutshell, this practice works mainly through us withdrawing our attention from distractingthoughts and redirecting our attention to the physical sensations of the breath. By doing so, we are putting less energy into the emotional states of restlessness, anxiety, craving, ill will, etc that drivethose thoughts. Over time the mind becomes calmer and our emotional states become more balancedand positive, and our experience becomes more positive.It’s important to note that the practice involves noticing that the mind has been wandering and bringing it back to the breath. Distractedness is an inevitable part of the process of meditating and not asign of failure!This step-by-step tutorial includes a number of guided meditation recordings that will help guideyou through the practice. There are also readings for each stage of the practice , dealing with the mostcommon questions and addressing the most common experiences that beginners tend to have.Although the meditation practice as taught here takes a samatha approach it is easy to bringelements of insight into a samatha practice. Also, some degree of samatha practice is virtuallyindispensible as a basis for vipassana, or insight, meditation. The mind needs to be somewhat calm inorder for us to be able to reflect on the impermanence of our experiences!There are other traditional forms that are widely practiced, especially in the insight meditationtraditions, but I’ve found this one to be particularly suitable for complete beginners. The first twostages especially, which involve counting, are very helpful in stabilizing the mind.More experienced practitioners can feel free to adapt the practice to their own needs, shortening or even dropping some stages, and extending others.
 
Mindfulness Meditation
Introduction
In the mindfulness of breathing meditation practice weuse the breath as an object of awareness. We follow the physical sensations of the breath as it flows in and out of the body.This meditation practice isn’t a breathing exercise. Weallow the breath to flow naturally and are simply aware of it.So there is no control over the breath.One of the first things we learn when we try to do thismeditation practice is how distracted our minds are! All sorts of thoughts and feelings flow into our awareness, and then we find we’ve forgotten all about the breath. This is a good thing to learn. If wedon’t know this we can’t do anything about it.Most of what comes into our minds is not very useful, and often it’s actually bad for us. For example we find ourselves worrying or getting angry, or putting ourselves down.The simple principle behind this meditation practice is that if we keep taking our awareness back tothe breath over and over again then our mind gradually quiets down and we feel morecontentment.Usually we do this with the eyes shut, to minimize distraction.You’ll need to know how to sit effectively, so you can either go to the meditation postureguidelines or, if you already know how to sit, then go directly to the meditation practice.Use the links on the left to navigate round the practice. If this is your first time practicing theMindfulness of Breathing, then start with stage one.
Coming back to the breath, over and over 
In the mindfulness of breathing we give the breath our full attention. We use the physicalsensations of the breath as an object that we focus on. We just allow the breath to happen. This is not a breathing exercise. We simply observe, and see what happens.
What we do in the Mindfulness of Breathing 
So, we start off by following the breath. After a while what tends to happen is that we forget allabout the breath, forget all about meditation, and get distracted by some train of thought, which is oftennothing at all to do with meditation. We don’t usually make any conscious decision to think aboutsomething outside of the meditation practice. It just happens as habitual patterns of behavior come into play. In fact, not only do we not choose to get distracted, we don’t have much choice at all!
 
Mindfulness Meditation
Becoming Unaware
Our habits are controlling us. It’s more like our thoughts are thinking us than we are thinking them.So one of the first things we learn in meditation is just how little control we do have — it’s quite adisconcerting realization for many of us. However, the fact that we often aren’t in control isn’t cause to become despondent — it’s the same for most of us most of the time. And we have to become aware of how distracted we are before we can do anything about it.Question: So what do we do when we’re meant to be meditating, but aren’t?Often we’re getting irritated, or fantasizing about things we’d rather be doing, or underminingourselves, or dozing, or worrying about something. Most of these activities aren’t very helpful or fulfilling. They’re not things we decided to do, they’re simply the habitual things we do when we’renot aware. The things we do when we’re meant to be meditating but aren’t, are called the hindrances tomeditation, and we’ll be exploring them in more detail in later classes. As well as learning about themwe’ll learn a whole bunch of tools to help us deal with them.The difference between being mindful and not being mindful is a big one, although we’re often notvery good at recognizing the difference between the two states. After all, we slip in and out of awareness all day. But there really is a big difference between being mindful and not being mindful, aswe’ll learn to see.
Regaining Awareness
So we get distracted, but at some point we become awarethat we haven’t been aware. In other words we regain our awareness. This is a crucial point in the meditation process. Now we’re aware again. Now we’re no longer being driven by our habits. We have freedom again. We can decide that wedon’t want to re-enter the world of distractedness. We havechoice. We can choose to exercise being aware rather than bedominated by our habitual distracted states of mind. We havean opportunity to cultivate awareness by maintaining our mindfulness of the breath. When we realize we’ve beendistracted we can take our awareness back to the breath.
The power of making choices
There’s an important opportunity available to us at the point when we regain our awareness. Wecan choose not only what we do (taking our awareness to the breath), but how we do it.When we realize that we’ve been ditracted there can be a strong temptation to beat ourselves up. Of course if we do that then we’re going straight back into an uncontrolled, unaware state of distractedness — we undermine ourselves or get annoyed.

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