Sacred geometry

Breath Meditation (1st Instructions and Guided Meditation)

Date9th September 2009
Retreat/SeriesUnbinding the Heart


[00:01, guided meditation begins]

Find your way into a posture that's comfortable. Perhaps the most important thing about the posture is that it's upright. It's reflecting a kind of uprightness in the mind, in the heart. Feeling -- can you get a sense of that uprightness in the body? But there's also a quality of softness there, relaxation, openness. So the body is reflecting the ideal balance of the mind, of the heart -- upright, attentive, but relaxed, soft, open.

Again, taking a few moments to feel into the face. Just tuning into how it feels, and noticing any tension that's being held there. Can be around the eyes. Just noticing and seeing if it's possible to relax, relax it, just as much as is possible right now. And then, again, the mouth and the jaw, feeling in and relaxing.

Moving the attention downwards into the the throat and the neck. How does it feel? And relaxing there, letting go there, as much as you can. Allowing the shoulders to drop. Sensing into the upper back and softening there. The chest, too -- feeling in and relaxing, softening. And the belly, and particularly the lower belly, really letting go there as much as possible.

Sitting in a sense of the body, a sense of the life of the body. And again, as we did this morning, taking a few moments to align the practice with kindness, to really realize and be clear that our engagement in practice is an act of kindness to ourselves, for ourselves, taking care of ourselves. And also an act of kindness for all beings, for the world.

Opening the awareness out to fill the body, stretching it over the space of the body. And just tuning into how that space of the body feels, the whole of it.

[7:20] Again, as we did before, when you're ready, beginning to let the breath become quite long -- long, smooth, slow, and comfortable, in and out. Keeping the awareness large.

Now, perhaps can you notice in the whole body, when the breath comes in, the whole body expanding with the in-breath? How does that feel? With the out-breath, there's a reverse of that expansion. How does that feel in the whole body? So keeping the breath long, filling the body with the breath energy, filling the body with awareness, and feeling that expansion and the contraction. Whole body.

Perhaps you can also feel, or maybe instead, when the breath comes in, with the in-breath, the whole body is energized by the in-breath, with the in-breath. There's a feeling of being energized in the whole body. Can you notice that? Is it possible to tune into how that feels? With the out-breath, there's a natural, an organic relaxation that happens. Is it possible to feel that in the whole body? Tune into whatever's helpful for you to tune into -- the expansion/contraction, the energizing/relaxing. Whatever is helpful.

[13:47] So keeping the breath long and slow and comfortable, keeping the awareness spacious, opening to the whole body. Opening the body with the breath. Still with the long breath, with the awareness large, can you notice, with a delicate attention, not forcing it, how does it feel up the front of the body when the breath comes in? Just seeing. Perhaps you can notice something there. Perhaps not. It's fine either way. Just a very light, delicate attention.

You might prefer to stay with the expansion, the contraction, the energizing, the relaxing. Tuning into whatever is helpful for you. Or perhaps with a very light attentiveness, you might notice, how does it feel in the neck and up into the face as the breath comes in and out? How does it feel up the spine, up the back of the body, with the in-breath, with the out-breath? Just tuning in, receptive to what you notice, what's helpful for you, in the whole body. Can you notice how the legs feel with the in- and out-breath?

So a bright awareness, a bright attentiveness, is permeating the whole body. The breath, too, the energy of the breath, is permeating the whole body, filling the whole body. Now, it may be, with a light attentiveness, that the sense of the body expanding and contracting, or the sense of the energizing of the body, or any other movement of energy in the body, it might be that you can notice that there's a subtle sort of pleasure that might be there, or comfort, or easefulness, or a sense of well-being. Not putting any pressure on; it's fine if that's not there. Not a problem at all. But if it is there, including that in the meditation, noticing that.

[25:02] Seeing if, in tuning in, in feeling into the whole body right now, you can get a sense of how the breath would really like to be so that the body feels most comfortable, most easeful, so that a little bit of a sense of well-being can be generated in the body, can be nourished in the body. If that means keeping the breath long, let the breath be long. If it means much shorter, let it be much shorter. Medium, a subtle breath, a gross breath, a coarse breath, a rough breath. Taking care of the body, taking care of the feeling in the body with the breath, through the breath. Still keeping the awareness large.

So inhabiting, filling the body with a really alive presence, and connecting, feeling in, and giving the body what it needs through the breath. We can open the body with the breath, or energize, or calm, bathe the body with the breath, soothe it. Playing with the breath and finding what the body needs.

It can be easy to overlook a feeling of ease and comfort that's there. Oftentimes we miss it. We get drawn into what's difficult. Can I dwell a little bit with what feels comfortable, or at least a little bit easeful, and nourish that with the breath?

[35:37, guided meditation ends]

Many of you might be new to this approach to the breath, but as I said, I would like you to experiment with it and at least give it a couple of days trying with it. I want to go into it a little bit. Why are we doing this? Why would we want to play with the breath? Often we hear, if you've done retreats before, "Don't try and manipulate the breath. Don't try and change it," etc. We could talk about that a lot. But just to say, for instance with the long breath, long breath tends to bring energy. We're actually bringing oxygen or prana or qi, whatever you want to call it, into the body. It energizes the body. More often than not, especially at the beginning of retreat, that's one thing that's really missing is energy. We bring with us a sluggishness, etc. So we're taking advantage of the long breath, and really using it to raise the whole energy of what's going on.

Why would we be interested in developing and nourishing and nurturing a comfortable feeling, a pleasant feeling? Again, often in meditation we hear, "Don't try and make anything happen," etc. So it's not a pressuring; we're absolutely not pressuring for that. It's more like we're inclining the awareness towards noticing what might be comfortable and seeing if that can be nourished and nurtured. Why? As I said last night, this is really a development. It's a gradual development of what feels comfortable. More often than not, unfortunately our bodies don't feel that comfortable. They certainly don't feel deeply comfortable or a deep sense of well-being there. This is something we can actually nourish in meditation, and it becomes a profound inner resource, profound in then how we meet the world and the difficulties in the world.

And it's very possible. I don't know how it was, and obviously it's very different for everyone, but not to prejudge it: "I can't do this," etc. We can learn to develop this. It's very gentle, without pressure. We can learn to develop a sense of well-being, a sense of comfort and ease, and even more, eventually, even more than that, through the breath, if we're going about it in the right way, without putting pressure on.

So there's inner resource that deepens over time. Massively significant. And at the same time, the mind that has that and settles down around that becomes bright, becomes contented, becomes energized and calm. That mind, that heart, is able, first of all, to almost draw insights to itself. It becomes a very insightful mind. And it becomes able to be used for insight. There's a lot of ability to see clearly, to see deeply, penetratingly.

Okay. So in terms of techniques, I want to give kind of six main points to remember. We've done them all already, but I just want to go through them to remember.

(1) The first thing, and more and more I think it's really significant, is starting with a sense of kindness, as we did earlier this morning and a little bit just now. Really getting the sense of aligning one's practice as a gesture of kindness towards oneself and to others, to all beings, being really clear: that's why I'm doing this. It sets the context. It allows a little warmth to come in, a little love to come in. That's the first thing.

(2) Second thing is to start, for now, for now, to start with the long breath. Generate the long breath and get so that it feels comfortable. We're not hyperventilating, we're not kind of straining, but just that the long breath feels quite comfortable and enjoyable, even, a little bit, if possible. After a time, when you feel ready -- if you want to, you can continue with the long breath; if you want to, you can let the long breath go and just find the most comfortable way for the body to breathe. Oftentimes people just go back to the default way of breathing, which is usually [short breaths] very short and small and not that nourishing to a sense of well-being. See if you can actually have a bit more aliveness there and play with the breath. Let yourself play. Not forcing it, not yanking it to be short or long and putting too much pressure on, but just playing.

Get a sense of what feels the best right now. At different times, it's going to be different. What feels the best for the body? Very, very without pressure, just nurturing a sense of comfort. It might be in the whole body. It might be in one part of the body, maybe just in the belly or maybe just in the neck or the face. Doesn't matter. Just nurturing that.

So the breath can be used -- we can discover different kinds of breath, and at different times it's used in different ways. One can really open the body through the breath. There's a whole sense of the whole energy system kind of opening or being energized with the breath. At other times we use the breath, it's very gentle, and it's almost like the whole system, our whole nervous system, is being soothed with the breath. So we can find that, just for this gentle kind of lapping in the body with the breath. Can be calmed through the breath. We can use the breath to calm. We can use the breath to have a sense of bathing in something that's nourishing. So to play with this, and as I said last night, to really let that quality of experimentation and playfulness come in. That's number two.

(3) Number three: not to preconceive how the breath should feel. Oftentimes, "Well, I've got tubes here, and they go down there, and I'm going to feel it here obviously, or I'm going to feel the abdomen rising and falling," or whatever we might be used to. But actually, if we let go of the preconceptions and be a little bit more open, we can actually notice the whole body is involved. What might that feel like? We don't know. There can be all kinds of things going on with the breath -- very gross things, very subtle things. And to feel what I call the texture of the whole body, the sort of vibration, the energy of the whole body in the whole body. So as we did just now, it could be the whole thing expanding, contracting; it could be a sense of being energized and sort of relaxing on the out-breath; it could be some people feel kind of movements of energy inside the body. Whatever one feels. That was number three.

(4) Number four: to really see if there is a comfortable feeling, no matter how slight, no matter how seemingly unremarkable. Seeing if that can be very much included in the practice, in the meditation, in the consciousness. Including whatever comfort, ease, sense of well-being is there, wherever it is, and to enjoy that, to enjoy it however it is and wherever it is, and to be content with that and not feel like it should be more, or I bet other people are getting better than me, or it was better last sitting or whatever. It's practising a sense of contentment and enjoyment. As I said, really not putting pressure on that, whatever sense of ease or comfort. And then using the breath, like we've already said, using the breath, finding ways to play with it that nourish that sense of well-being in the body. It might be at times that it becomes a kind of fullness in the body or it spreads. It might just be in one area, but at times it can actually spread, and we can encourage that without pressure.

(5) Number five I've said many times: the awareness will keep shrinking. Just to keep expanding it, stretching it over the body, taut, like filling a balloon. The whole body is breathing, the whole body is permeated with awareness.

(6) Last one, which you already know: to try and stay with this sense of the whole body and the whole breath, and just stay kind of present with it, engaged with it, really bright with it. Of course the mind goes off. Of course it goes off, you know, a gazillion times a day. One just notices and brings it back. So we're practising patience as much as we're learning to focus and engender a sense of well-being. Practising patience. We're also practising kindness. So those moments when we're off are very significant. Can there be patience? Can there be kindness, and just a directness in coming back?

So there can be a tendency with this approach to not want to, for instance, engage in the long breath or play with the breath a little bit. Sometimes that's just laziness. We kind of have a default way of breathing. But see if you can really engage in that way with the breath. I know some of you have been here for a while already, some days or sometimes weeks for some of you. If you've already been here, it might be that at the start of a sitting you actually don't need the long breath, and what's actually appropriate is a much more subtle breath. But generally speaking, long breath at the beginning will be most helpful.

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry