27 Aug 2012
Meditation: focus attention on the in and out breath at the belly. With the in breath, arouse your attention. With the out breath, release any thoughts and relax.
In order to maintain attention, it is important to develop relaxation first. Otherwise, we get tired easily.
Normally, our default mode is rumination, where we become susceptible to mental afflictions. We need to develop a new default mode: continuity of attention, continuity of non-conceptual knowing. When your breath is long, notice you are breathing long, when your breath is short, notice that you are breathing short. Sustain the clarity of awareness. With this exercise, we open the doors to intuition.
Meditation starts at 6:40
This morning we continue to polish our lenses, prepare the instrument for investigating the body and so forth in terms of “the four applications of mindfulness”. We will move on to the second balancing act of seeking to, gently but very persistently, enhance the stability of attention, the continuity of attention, the ongoing coherence of attention, without, at least, course excitation. So this means some effort needs to be exerted to maintain that continuity and then the challenge and the balance is: exert just enough effort to maintain the continuity but without starting to seize up, without getting tight, contracted.
So in other words we are doing something, developing ability we were not born with and it’s not part of the world of mundane ways of focusing attention. There is a lot of study behind this, a lot of scientific studies, I think I’ve mentioned before. That is, overall, in all types of mundane efforts when people really focus they contract, they tight up, they sustain it with effort and then they get exhausted, whereas a yogi will go into meditation of Shamatha for four hours effortlessly and come out just fresh as a daisy. So it’s a fundamentally different way of sustaining the focus. Here the stability is coming out of relaxation rather than the stability coming out of contraction. So that is one crucial point.
Second crucial point, this second phase where we will be focusing, as you probably anticipate, on the rise and fall of the abdomen, just the bare tactile sensation. The idea here is really to overcome a very deeply ingrained, old habit and that is of letting our default mode — when we are not specifically attending to or engaging with something — our default mode shifting from rumination, kind of quasi-conscious, non-lucid rumination. So that is for many people where they have nothing to do, they just porrrr (sound) and go into the non-lucid dream, a little mini dream of rumination and it is exhausting, so it is really a bad habit, exhausting and as Shantideva points out in the eighth, meditation chapter: as soon you flip into that then you are just living between the fangs of mental afflictions. In other words you are just ready to fall prey to any mental affliction because your guard is down; your psychological immune system is shot.
(2:58) So here for these 8 weeks, the idea here, starting this session today, now, is to develop a new default mode, rather than falling into rumination, when there is nothing else to do and going on bla, bla, bla, semi-consciously and non-lucidly, let your default mode be to rest in a non-conceptual, clear mode of awareness, present-centered, let that be the default mode. And then from the default mode, when there is something to think about by all means think! Creatively, analytically, drawing on memory, drawing on fantasy, whatever you like. But let it be deliberate, let it be conscious, let it be lucid rather than rumination which is just the opposite of all the above.
So the idea here is with every out-breath, we’re releasing rumination. Releasing, releasing, releasing, going back to our default mode, developing a new default mode, a new baseline, and the baseline is quiet, clear, non-conceptual attentiveness. That is a new habit and it’s refreshing, it’s much more pleasant than rumination, I guarantee it!
Third point, we are developing now a continuity of a type of knowing we already have but it so easily and habitually gets totally overwhelmed by rumination and unnecessary cogitation.
I want to give you a simply example:
I am going to hold up either a short finger, like that, or a longer finger, like that, ok? There’s the short finger, there’s the long finger. Keep your mind – this is going to be really short, less than thirty seconds — but keep your mind as quiet as you possibly can, no rumination, no reasoning, logic, bla, bla, bla, no verbalization at all and just see how quickly you can detect whether I am holding up a short or long finger. Ready? Ok. It was ridiculously easy and you didn’t think: ah, long, ah, short. If those words came up they came up as long after you recognize whether it was long or short, right? That is where we often get caught up, in the bla, bla, bla, whereas you knew it before you said anything.
Like taste of chocolate you know before you say: ah, chocolate! Sweet, sour, bitter, and so forth and so on you know it before you label it. Right?
So we are now wanting to maintain a continuity of that knowing before the cogitation, the verbalization, the categorization, the rumination sets in. Sustain that. It is an immediate knowing.
Now, what is the Buddha’s instruction? This is for mindfulness of breathing: when you breathe in short, when you breathe in long, you note you breathe in long. That’s why I did this business with the finger. You do not need to think, oh, that was long. You already know it before you talk about it.
Breathing in long one knows I breathe in long, breathing out long one knows I breathe out long.
Then as your whole system settles down, gradually but not very – how do you say? — homogeneously but on occasion, then your whole system will calm down, you’ll need less air and therefore the duration of your breath is going to get shorter.
Breathing in short one knows I breathe in short, breathing out short one knows I breathe out short, it is just knowing that, it is a kind of knowing that is very primitive but is sufficient and so exercise that, sustain that from breath to breath, but knowing prior to articulation. It is opening the portals of intuition, it is opening that door so in a way you’re intuiting whether that is long or short, before you ever figure out it is an immediate knowing. That is what we are seeking to sustain here.
Let’s jump in!
(6:59) We call this phase two of mindfulness of breathing and it will be a guide meditation. It is very good in a supine position, either posture is fine.
As soon as possible develop a type of pavlovian response to this bell, not to salivate but to relax, to invite yourself lovingly, and very friendly, inviting, warm, affectionate way to soothingly enter into this session by letting your awareness descend into the body, right down to the ground, coming out of your head, coming out of the web of conceptualization and simplify.
Touch the ground and let your awareness rise up and fill the whole space of the body, right up to the top of the head. Be mindfully present throughout the body, noting areas of tightness, gently attending to them as you breathe in and then utterly surrounding, loosening up, relaxing as you breathe out. Soften all the muscles of the face, soften the eyes, and let your body be still and adopt a posture, even if it is only psychological, adopt a posture of vigilance.
And take on the subtler challenge of settling your respiration in its natural rhythm, utterly releasing with every out breath, which is to say relax more and more deeply in the body, utterly release the breath, release any thoughts that may come to mind. And as if you’ve opened a valve tank full of water and you simply leave it open until all the water is drained out, as you breathe out just let the air flow out until there is nothing more to flow out but without ever expelling it, forcing it out or keeping it out, just let it flow out all the way to the last drop.
(13:24) And allow the breath to flow in without pulling it in and however long the in breath is, just let it be, long or short, deep or shallow, and from breath to breath do not try to regulate it, let the body find its own balance.
This practice of shamatha leads to samadhi which means the unification of the mind, which means not multitasking. So in order to facilitate this, now release very deliberately all concerns about the future and the past, all cogitations about the present, surrender them all and let your awareness come to rest in stillness in the present moment, carefree.
And for just a short while let your awareness illuminate the sensations throughout the body with a special interest, focus on those associated with the in and out breath. Be aware of the sensations of the body breathing, without visualizing it, just attending to the bare tactile sensations.
And now to shift to the explicit cultivation of stability, direct your attention downwards to the tactile sensations of the rise and fall of the abdomen with each in and out breath. There is no need to visualize or think about the abdomen, just focus on the bare tactile sensations.
As the breath naturally and effortlessly flows in, let each in breath be an occasion for arousal, focusing, concentrating your attention. Now is the time for effort, to focus closely on the sensations of the in breath at the abdomen, non-conceptually. With each out breath, deeply relax. Relax evenly while at the same time gently sustaining the flow of mindfulness of the sensations of the breath at the abdomen. Arouse and release, arouse and release with each in and out breath.
As the breath flows in clearly and sharply focus your attention non-conceptually and by so doing you overcome naturally the attentional imbalance of laxity or dullness. And with every out breath as you deeply relax, release any thoughts, image, memories that may have come to mind, just release them, let them go, let them dissolve back into the space of the mind while gently sustaining the flow of mindfulness of the breath and in this way overcome the attentional imbalance of excitation, of agitation.
Now and again introspectively check up on the body to see that your posture is as it needs to be, settled in its natural state, relaxed, still and vigilant, check up on the muscles of the face and on the eyes to see that they are loose and relaxed.
Introspectively monitor the flow of the breath as well, noting or insuring that you are not voluntary regulating it in any way, do not try to regularize it, just let it be, trust your body to breathe without intervening in any way.
Summary of Alan’s comments/advices to the Yogis after meditation:
(31:55) Alan suggests to the yogis in between sessions:
As much as you can maintain a peripheral awareness of the out flow and in flow of the breath as you are walking, lying down, doing this, doing that. Like keeping a finger on the pulse. Stay in touch, in other words develop a new default mode of your awareness grounded in your senses, grounded in the present moment in a non-conceptual mode. At the same time, this is not tight, not constricted, it is not authoritarian, as if you’re trying to bring some dictatorship to the mind. Whenever you wish to think, go ahead!
It’s very much like, if you want to dream, why not be lucid and have as many dreams as you like, but just let them be lucid. That is when you are dreaming, know that you are dreaming, rather than being caught up in a delusional state of non-lucid dreaming, where you’re dreaming and you don’t even know it. So likewise think whenever you like, whenever it’s worthwhile, meaningful, but know that you are thinking, think lucidly. And when there is nothing to think about, as a matter of fact that’s most of the time here – in the business-place, for instance, there’s a lot to this about — but this is a really simple environment where there’s not a whole lot to think about. Give to yourself a break and do not think about anything at all, just enjoy. Whoa! This is what it’s like to be a sentient being in the universe! Rest there and then just get into that nice flow, just a peripheral awareness.
But Tsongkhapa points out that in terms of real success in the practice of shamatha it’s not enough to be focused just while you’re in session or on the cushion. You need to maintain a peripheral awareness, stay in touch, just gently. It’s not kind of really tight concentration, but stay in touch with the in and out flow of the breath. It’s almost like living near the beach and just being aware of the wave going Whoosh! Whoosh! You may be reading, you may be listening to music, you may be walking, washing the dishes, cooking a meal but you are still aware of that Whoosh! [hearing the sound of the respiration and feeling the sensations of the in and out breath], that is nice soothing flow of the waves washing upon shore. Peripherally, right? Just let that be your touchstone, you’re touching down into reality.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by James French
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti