Meditation Series. Part 2: How To Meditate Using Mindful Breathing
We choose the best available place knowing that we will never find a perfect spot. We try to find a place that is quiet and peaceful, where the conditions and the weather are good, where there are no disturbances.
However, when good conditions are not available, we do the best we can with what we have. We must be able to practice even when sitting on the metro coming down from Placa Catalunya. Sometimes we can focus on the breath until we do not hear the noise of the train and do not feel the shaking as it moves. That shows that we can choose a location and use the conditions available to us in the best possible way.
We are not going to be defeated by any circumstances. Even on the train. Whether we have perfect conditions or not, we will make the most of them and do what we can. When we want to practice, we can use the sound of the train itself as a meditation object. The "clack-clack-clack" of the wheels on the rails can be our meditation object instead of the breath. In this way we have no objections about any location in the world.
The next preliminary step is to prepare the body. Clear your nose, itch any itches, prepare yourself in a way that will reduce potential distractions.
We do not have to be enslaved to a certain time of day. When possible, we choose a time when there are no distractions and disturbances. When there is no time, however, that is completely free of distractions, we use the best time available. Then the mind learns to be undistracted regardless of how many disturbances there are. Actually, we are training the mind to be undisturbed no matter what is going on around us. The mind will learn to be peaceful. Do not limit yourself to any certain time, when things must be just right, and you will never find it. Some people do this until they cannot find any time to meditate. That is not right. Always be flexible to practice at any time.
It is necessary to sit in a way that is stable and secure, so that when the mind is semi-conscious we will not fall over. Consider how long the pyramids in Egypt have been sitting! Learn to sit like a pyramid. The best way to do this is to sit cross-legged. Put your legs out in front of you, then pull the right foot up onto the left thigh and the left foot up onto the right thigh. These who have never sat this way, who may not even be used to sitting on the floor, may need some time to train the body to sit in this way, but it is worth the effort. You can patiently, gradually train yourself to sit in this way, a cushion to sit on can be a good help. From ancient times this way of sitting has been called "the lotus posture."
It is also important to sit upright with the vertebrae and spine in proper alignment without any bends or curves. The spine is a vital part of the nervous system so we should sit erect in order to keep it straight and correct. This is a dignified good posture. If the spine is bent, there will be one kind of breathing. If the spine is straight then there will be another kind of breathing. Therefore, we must try to straighten the spine, even if it is a little bit difficult at first.
At first; it may be difficult for those of you who have never sat like this. Nevertheless, you must try to do it. The first time, you may be able only to fold your legs in front without crossing them. That is enough to begin. Later, put one leg on top of the other, cross one leg. Finally, you will be able to cross both legs in a "full lotus." Sometimes when commuting or in certain circumstances a normal sitting posture or those seen above are also acceptable.
Next, the hands. The most comfortable and easiest thing to do with the hands is to let them fall onto the knees. Another way is to lay the hands on top of each other in the lap. Some groups advise to fold the hands in the lap with the thumbs touching in order to have "concentrated hands." To press the hands together can aid concentration. Choose which seems most suitable for you.
Many people believe that they must close their eyes, that they cannot meditate with open eyes. At Everest we don’t like to get too caught up in the sitting posture, or the eyes, however the teachings state that if you are serious about what you are doing and have a sufficiently strong mind it is not difficult to practice with the eyes left open. Begin with the eyes open. Open them with the determination to gaze toward the tip of the nose. Gaze at the tip of the nose so that the eyes will not get involved in other things. When we close our eyes we tend to be sleepy. Also, when the eyes are closed they become warm and dry. Mediating with the eyes open will help us to stay awake and will keep the eyes cool and comfortable. Further, this will help the mind to be concentrated. As concentration develops about half way, the eyes will close naturally by themselves. The eyelids will relax and drop shut on their own. There is nothing to worry about. The complete technique is to begin with the eyes open. Gaze at the nose tip until the eyes will close on their own.
FOLLOWING THE BREATH WITH MINDFULNESS
At last we come to the noting, the contemplation, of the breathing. To start, we must have mindfulness or reflective awareness. We begin by being mindful of the in and out breath. We train by noting that we are about to breath in or about to breath out. Let the breathing go on comfortably and normally. Let it be natural. Do not interfere with it at all. Then contemplate each breath with mindfulness. How are we breathing in? What is the out-breath like? In the beginning we develop and train using a technique called "following" or "chasing." Start by trying to observe the cycle of just one inbreath and one outbreath in its entirety. Do not allow any gaps or any lapses in your observation of this one cycle, then try and repeat this for each cycle of breath as they come. This is the first lesson: contemplate the breath.
The only thing that matters is to contemplate the breath as if chasing it, without ever losing it. It goes in and stops a moment. Then it comes out and pauses a moment. In and out, in and out, with short breaks in between. Note everything and do not let anything slip by. Do not allow empty spaces where the mind might wander. Keep the mind constantly on the breathing in and out.
MANY KINDS OF BREATH
While we practice following, we have the opportunity to observe various characteristics of the breath. We can feel many things, In this first step, contemplate the longness and the shortness of the breath, the coarseness and fineness of the breath. Further, we observe its smoothness and bumpiness.
We must learn how to observe in more detail, that is, to observe the reaction or influence of the different kinds of breathing. What reactions do they cause, how do they influence our awareness? For example, when the breathing is long, how does it influence our awareness. What reactions does the short breathing cause? What are the influences of coarse and fine breathing, comfortable and uncomfortable breathing? We observe the different types of breath and their different influences until we can distinguish clearly how the long and short breaths, coarse and fine breaths, and comfortable/uncomfortable breaths differ . We must know the variations in the reactions to and influences of these various properties of the breath, of these qualities that influence our awareness, our sensitivity, our mind.
Along with the above observations, we need to watch the effect or flavour of the different kinds of breath. The flavors that arise are kinds of feelings, such as, happiness, non-happiness, annoyance, and contentment. Observe and experience the flavors or effects caused, especially, by the long breath and short breath, by the coarse breath and fine breath, and by the easy breath and uneasy breath. Find out how it is they have different flavors. For instance, we will see that the long breath gives a greater sense of peace and well being, it has a happier taste than the short breath. Different kinds of breath bring different kinds of happiness. We learn to analyze and distinguish the different flavors that come with the different kinds of breath that we have scrutinized.
There is a way for us to regulate the breath in these beginning steps in order to make it longer or shorter. If we would like to train with this, we have a technique called "counting." For example, in one inhalation we count to five, from one to five. If we count to ten; from one to ten, the breath will lengthen accordingly. On an ordinary breath we only count to five. For a short breath- we might count to three and that changes the breath as we wish. Always count at the same speed, for if the pace of counting changes it would negate the effect of counting higher or lower. By counting, the lengths of the breath can be regulated. We can lengthen or shorten them using this special training technique. We do not have to use it all the time. It is just a little experiment we can use from time to time in order to regulate the breath or to get to know it better. Give it a try whenever you want.