Mindfulness of Breathing #2

These are my notes from studying the end of Chapter 7 in Joseph Goldstein’s book “Mindfulness.” They are the second half of Mindfulness of Breathing.

In the Satipatthana sutta, there is a series of progressive instructions regarding the breath, which is the first of the contemplations on the body.

Why mindfulness of breathing is so good and universal:

  • It is always present
  • It is suitable for any personality type
  • It leads to both deep concentration and penetrative insight
  • It is the antidote to distraction and discursive thoughts
  • It is a stabilizing factor at the time of death.
Breathing in, I know I am Breathing in
We don’t force or control the breath in any way
Noticing when are mind wanders off, we simply gently let go and begin again
Noticing breathing as long or short
Just noticing how the breath actually is
Deconditioning our pattern of controlling the breath

Balancing our practice between trying and relaxing, noticing the skillful means

  • If the mind is wandering a lot or sleepy then having the mind rush toward the object (the breath), capturing the object forcefully, and penetrating it deeply
  • If the mind is over-efforting and tight then, a more receptive mode with an attitude of listening or receiving the breath
  • We can adjust our attitude according to our circumstance in the moment and the goal of staying on the path, attentive and concentrated.
If the breath becomes very refined, sometimes even imperceptible allow the breath to draw the mind down to its own level of subtlety.
If the breath does disappear, simply be aware of the body sitting until the breath appears again by itself.

Breathing in, I experience the Whole Body

At this point in the sutta, there’s a change of language from “to know” to “to train”. Suggesting an increasing level of intentionality in our practice as we broaden our practice from the breath to the whole body.

One trains thus: “I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body,” one trains thus, “I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body.” One trains thus: “I shall breathe in calming the bodily formations,” one trains thus: “I shall breathe out calming the bodily formations.”

Two interpretations of the “whole body”
1. Feeling the breath throughout the body or feeling the whole body as we breath
2. Feeling the whole “breath body.”
a. Experiencing the beginning, middle, and end of each breath.
b. Experiencing the entire flow of changing sensations within each in or out breath.

These two interpretations can again be used skillfully

  • If you are too controlling of the breath, zeroing in on it may not be helpful, maybe better to emphasize the larger context of the body.
  • If you are spaced out, or lost in a wandering mind, narrowing the focus to just the stream of sensations of the breath could be more helpful.

Calming the formations with each breath

  • Calming the body and stopping our inclinations to move
  • Calming the breath and allowing it to become more tranquil

Bhikkhus, if wanderers of other sects ask you: “In what dwelling, friends, did the Blessed One generally dwell during the rains residence?” – being asked thus, you should answer those wanderers thus: “During the rains residence, friends, the Blessed One generally dwelt in the concentration by mindfulness of breathing.”…

“If anyone, Bhikkhus, speaking rightly could say of anything: “It is a noble dwelling, a divine dwelling, the Tathagata’s dwelling, it is of concentration by mindfulness of breathing that one could rightly say this.