Skillful Mindfullness: Mindfulness of the Breath

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 200-201)

Mindfulness of the Body is the First Foundation of Mindfulness.  It has several parts.  Three are:

Mindfulness of the Breath

The Buddha’s first recommendation in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness is to use mindfulness to observe the breath.  This brings you to and keeps you in the present moment.

By experiencing your breathing you can notice a number of things:

  • The sensation of the breath on the nostrils while breathing in and out.
  • The length of the breath (long, short)
  • The rate of the breath (slow, fast)
  • The four phases: inhale, pause, exhale, pause
  • The variability in each inhalation and each exhalation.
  • The expansion and contraction of the lungs and abdomen

Several insights into the nature of the mind can come from observing the breath:

Calmness and Agitation:  As you observe your breathing, you can see how the mind desires a steady flow of the breath with no discomfort.  When your breathing is steady, the mind is calm.  The mind desires permanency and certainty.  When there is a disruption of breathing such as holding your breath too long, the mind becomes agitated.  By applying mindfulness to see what really is, you can see how your mind is attached to a certain outcome in breathing.  By letting go of that outcome though mindfulness, you can achieve peace and calm despite the nature of your breathing.  You see the impermanence, dissatisfaction (attachment) and selflessness of the breath.

Rising and falling of phenomena:  As you try to focus your attention of the breath, other phenomena such as bodily sensations, thoughts, memories and perceptions will arise.  Leaving your observation of the breath, you can focus your attention on what has arisen.  When it fades away, you can return your attention to the breath. In this way, you can know that all phenomenon are impermanent, unsatisfactory and selfness.  As Bhante G. notes:  “the mind learns from impartial and unbiased watching of these occurrences, that these aggregates (body, feelings, perception, thoughts, consciousness) exist only for the purpose of gaining deeper insight into the reality of the mind and body.  They are not here for you to get attached to them.”

Practicing Mindfulness of the Breath

Counting – counting the breaths helps to prevent distraction.  Counting only up to five is recommended.  Counting can be discarded in favor of connecting:  Just observing the breath without distraction.

From Nyanasatta Theraexternal_link

“Though penetrative insight leading to Nibbana (enlightenment) is the ultimate object, progress in mindfulness and concentration will also bring many benefits in our daily lives. If we have become habituated to follow our breaths for a longer period of time and can exclude all (or almost all) intruding irrelevant thoughts, mindfulness, self-control and efficiency are sure to increase in all our activities. Just as our breathing, so also other processes of body and mind, will become clearer to us, and we shall come to know more of ourselves.

It has been said by the Buddha: ‘Mindfulness of breathing, developed and repeatedly practiced, is of great fruit, of great advantage, for it fulfills the four foundations of mindfulness; the four foundations of mindfulness, developed and repeatedly practiced, fulfill the seven enlightenment factors; the seven enlightenment factors, developed and repeatedly practiced, fulfill clear-vision and deliverance.’ Clear vision and deliverance, or direct knowledge and the bliss of liberation, are the highest fruit of the application of mindfulness.”

Reflection

  • Each day, re-read this talk and reflect on it.
  • Practice mindfulness of the breath.  Try it when unpleasant feelings arise.
  • What do you observe?

Meditation

  • Take time to meditate each day if only for a little while.

Next: Skillful Mindfulness: Mindfulness of Posture
Previous
: Skillful Mindfulness: Introduction to Mindfulness