03 Sep 2012
Teaching: A new cycle begins this week on mindfulness of feelings. When feelings arise, there is a strong tendency for us to grasp onto them as I or mine. Therefore, we need to learn how to release grasping and identification with feelings and remain simply present with them.
As for release, Alan emphasizes the importance of learning how to breathe properly. Without proper breathing, it’s difficult for our meditation to progress, since the prana system is central to body/mind. Proper breathing is a skill we need to learn and master. Alan suggests that we first master breathing in the supine position before moving to the sitting position.
Meditation: mindfulness of breathing method of your choice. Balance vigilance with relaxation. Let the body breathe naturally. Don’t manipulate the breath by expelling out or pulling in. Get out of the way by releasing all control of and any preferences with regard to the breath. With every out breath, release (bodily tension and rumination) more deeply. The out breath provides the best opportunity to relax and relinquish all effort.
Meditation starts at 7:02
This week will be devoted in the afternoons to the close applications of mindfulness to feelings, which is tremendously important to us since we care so much about our feelings every moment of the day and even in our dreams. In the first three days of this week we will focus primarily on the feelings arising in the body, the feelings arising in relationship to our sensory experience and that is not just the body and then during the last three days of the week we will really focus primarily on mental feelings, happy, sad and indifferent.
But the mornings will continue to be focusing on shamatha and for the first three days we will focus on the shamatha method that the Buddha himself specifically recommended for the four application of mindfulness namely mindfulness of breathing. I want to go back to basics here because some people, a few, rarely but it does occasionally happen, that a person goes through the whole 8 weeks training here and never learn how to breathe and then without that base it’s really hard to have any successful, fruitful, joyful, transformative meditation practice. And learning how to breathe is learning how to release the breathing, it is not learning a new skill, it is learning how to disengage and allow the body to breathe because it is so much better at it than we are.
There are many ways we can damage our nervous system, we can damage it by way of meditation, damage by way of mispractice of pranayama, damage it with life style, damage it with drugs, damage it with mental afflictions, anger, resentment, rumination, there are so many different ways that we can cause our prana system, or objectively speaking, our nervous system to become dysfunctional.
(2:14) And then according to traditional Tibetan medicine if your prana system is out of balance nothing else in your body, or one can even say in your body-mind, will go very well. It is too core, and so it is ironic with this overwhelmingly materialistic view of the body that we have in modern medicine that prana - even existence of prana - is not even acknowledged. Well never mind that, at least a nervous system is acknowledged.
So in terms of healing and balancing, healing the injuries we have already inflicted upon our nervous system resulting in all types of symptoms, massive number of symptoms, obviously stress related disorders but a myriad of others as well.
Pranayama is like surgery and well-crafted surgery can be a life saver. Mindfulness of breathing is like naturopathy, and that is, it’s allowing the body to heal itself and then we do everything we possible can, not to get in the way.
So for the breathing, we see this relates very strongly to the close applications of mindfulness to feelings, that is when feelings arise we tend to have very powerful habituation, deeply ingrained habituation to grasp onto feelings as “I” and “mine”. I am in so much in pain physically, for example. We do not say my body is, we do not say pain is arising in my body, not very often, only when we’re being clever. But when we’re being spontaneous we just say I am in anguish, I am in pain. Or if it is mental we say I am miserable. That is almost like saying I am a man, I am Alan, I mean a total fusion of identity.
Well that is a habit that can be broken and we start with the breathing, we start where we can do it. We do not start with anguish or severe physical pain, we cannot do it but we can start with breathing. It is a skill that needs to be mastered; to be able to be fully witnessing the breath, aware of the breath and completely relinquishing control over it and by relinquishing control over it you stand a chance of not identifying with it, simply being present with it and that is the crack in the door, open that one up and see what bounty flows.
So in terms of finding liberation from pain in the body and pain in the mind there are two strategies and both have value; and one of these is doing everything we can to get rid of the pain or suffering, to get rid of it, get medical treatment and if it is necessary - if you are dying of bone cancer you need morphine, it will not heal you but it is better than just having unbearable pain. So if we can simply have the pain go away it is really very good. If we can heal it from its source by medical intervention, by psychotherapy and have some distress go away, very good. But even great yogis may die of cancer so they could not make the cancer go away by their meditation. So hedonic pain - that is stimulus driven pain - sometimes we cannot do anything about it, and if we can then we should.
But there is another avenue of liberation and that is release grasping, release the identification, and then the pain arises in the body and it is orphaned. You are seeing it like watching motes of dust floating in the air, they are not your dust, they are just arising in the space and they have no owner and they do not grip you. If you do not grip them, they do not grip you.
So let’s try with breathing first. It is a skill and you really need to master it and it is more difficult in the sitting position than it is laying down because in the sitting you have to be tensing some muscles or you will fall over. So you are totally relaxed and see if you can breathe totally naturally, as if you are overhearing your breath, as if you happen to be simply witnessing, like witnessing the breathing of a person in bed with you: in and out, in and out, and you have nothing to do with it. Witness your breath like that. First master it in the supine position, if you master that then you can see about sitting. Let’s jump in.
Joyfully as you set out taking the first steps and fully healing your body and your mind, irreversible and completely, joyfully let your awareness descend into and fill the space of the body. You are about to do something really good for yourself so do it lovingly and as soon as your awareness fills the space of your body you may be immediately aware of areas that feel tight, gently attend to them as you breathe in, simply take note of them, and as you breathe out, let go.
Soften all the muscles of the face and especially soften in the eyes. And in this stillness moved only by the breath, balance vigilance with relaxation.
And now for the breath, the entry here is the out breath, it is the easiest time to relax, to let go in every way, to relinquish all effort and just let the breath flow out like water out of a glass.
Then with every out breath relax and release more and more deeply in the body in terms of muscular tension. Like letting a dog, a frisky dog, off a leash, just release rumination, wandering thoughts, memories, images, just let them go with every out breath.
(12:14) And as you approach the end of each exhalation see especially then that your mind is quiet, that you are very attentive, as you release the breath to the last drop without expelling it; but do not inhale prematurely, in fact do not inhale at all, do not take the breath, do not pull it in, release, release and release until the next in breath is given, flowing in on its own accord and receive just what is given without pulling in anymore or without in anyway inhibiting the in-flow of the breath. Attend closely, but with no control or preference.
(14:15) Abandon all expectations and preferences as to how you think the breath should flow. Your opinions are irrelevant, just as your opinion on how the liver should function and how your stomach should digest food, just let it do its business. Keep out of the way.
(17:30) Set your mind at ease with an act of will, releasing all concerns, all ruminations concerning the past and the future. And for the remainder of this session continue with the mindfulness of breathing in any of the three modes of your choice, but most importantly release all control, all sense of identification of I or mine regarding the respiration, it is just the body breathing.
And let’s continue practicing in silence.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Revised by Phil Gardner and Erik Koeppe
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Posted by Alma Ayon