In the late afternoons on a recent retreat with Ajahn Sucitto, students were able to sit casually around a table, with tea in hand, and ask Ajahn questions relevant to practice and life.
On one such occasion, after a day of developing samadhi with respect to breath awareness, one student asked:
“Ajahn (which means teacher), I’m a bit confused. Sometimes today you’ve told us to lengthen the exhalation and to empty the lungs completely before breathing in again, and then to count how long the gap is between exhalation and inhalation. And at other times, you’ve instructed us to not manipulate the breathing at all. I guess my question is: is it better to do something with the breath, or nothing?”
There was a pause before Ajahn answered in his thick and inimitably dry British accent:
“Right… yeah… I suppose it is a bit confusing, innit? But generally, it would be better to do nothing than something… (long pause)…if you can do it, that is.” Followed by deep chuckling.
But there it is in a nutshell: if you’re hopelessly lost in the froth of the mind, it might be a good idea to apply some effort to direct and sustain attention on the breath or some other specific object. But once the mind is reasonably balanced, it’s a good idea to let go of ALL manipulation, completely. Drop the control, let all formations be, and….
What you’ll find is that the natural state of awareness has it’s own self-sustaining energy. Energy that is not derived from personal effort, but energy that is central to it’s own nature.
So, this week, take this cue into your sitting practice: NO MANIPULATION. Don’t try to control anything. Don’t try to suppress or stop anything. Don’t try to achieve or attain anything. And whenever you do recognize the tendency to manipulate, simply let it go.
Originally published on July 15, 2011