“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Our breathing is a stable, ever-present ground for our attention. Regardless of our thoughts, emotions, and perceptions, our breathing is always with us, like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, overwhelmed by deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we can return to our breathing to collect and anchor our minds.
We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing is. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life. We can learn practice phrases, called gathas, that help us return to awareness of our breathing, such as:
“Breathing in I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out I know that I am breathing out.”
We do not need to control our breath, just feel it as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. As we become more aware of our breath, it will naturally become slower and deeper. Becoming aware of our breathing, or “conscious breathing,” is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life. Mindfulness of the breath is the foundation for all the practices at MPCH.
Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for ourselves. We do not sit in meditation for any esoteric purpose; instead we sit to train our minds. The mindfulness generated during sitting meditation is very healing.
We pick a quiet spot where we can sit comfortably. It could be on a cushion on the floor or in a chair. Regardless of the place, we sit upright with dignity. Having our hands folded in our lap or with the thumb of each hand touching the forefinger of that hand can help us relax. Relaxing our body is the next step. Focusing our kindness on any part of the body that is tense or that hurts can help us relax.
We then turn to our breathing. We observe our breath with our full attention. It could be the sensation of the breath as it flows in and out of our nostril, or it could be gentle movement of our chest or abdomen, whatever is natural and convenient for us. Following each inbreath and outbreath to its conclusion can help us maintain focus on our breathing.
As we observe our breathing we may notice that our mind has wandered away from our breath. Instead of feeling angry or irritated with ourselves for letting the mind wander, we gently bring our attention back to our breath. We experience the joy of coming back to our breath.
We continue to sit quietly for a period of time. At our weekly meetings, we sit for about twenty minutes at a time. (If you are just beginning a sitting meditation practice at home, you can work your way to twenty minutes if that is uncomfortable at first.) If our legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt during the sitting, we adjust our position quietly. We can maintain our concentration by following our breathing and slowly and attentively changing our posture.
As we get increasingly comfortable with observing our breath, we could start using the sitting meditation practice to dive deeper into ourselves, examining emotions, thoughts, and consciousnesses. We can let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind. We observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye, taking care not to get lost in these thoughts. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.
We can grow to realize we can just be with whatever is within us -- our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, and then let it go. No need to push, to repress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there.