In this week’s installment of Minute of Mindfulness, I’ll be returning to the theme of rapture or pleasure in practice. And we’ll be looking at how our perception of the breath serves as a powerful agent in our experience of the breath. In other words, we’ll be experimenting with how our thoughts about the breath shape our sensory experience of the breath.
Before I leap into that theme, however, a few words about perception, in general. In my opinion, one of the unfortunate legacies of the New Age movement is the notion that our ‘thoughts create reality.’ At best, this is a spurious platitude; at worst, a symptom of solipsistic grandiosity that can be a very painful teaching for the unfortunate person not able to visualize or think themselves out of cancer, poverty or natural disaster.
Wait. Before you hit unsubscribe, hear me out. 🙂 I’m not throwing the baby out with the bath water. While I don’t see evidence for ‘thoughts’ creating reality, I do see tremendous evidence for the power of thoughts to shape or fashion our experience of reality. Some might think I’m splitting hairs, but I think the distinction is important. And this is where breath meditation can be a fascinating laboratory for this sort of investigation.
I encourage you to play with these various perceptions of the breath, to develop your own perceptions of the breath, and to see for yourself which perceptions serve you best in developing a stable, comfortable experience. It’s from that stable base of comfort and contentment that deeper levels ofpleasure emerge. Additionally, you’ll learn a great deal about the karmic implications of perceptions, a kind of wisdom that has tremendous application in daily life!
So for practice. Spend a few minutes in meditation just relaxing the body, allowing some level of physical comfort, and try to get a sense of what your default perception of the breath actually is. This is how you perceive the breath without really looking too hard. Do you feel it at the nostrils? The chest? The abdomen? Do you experience it coming in the nose and filling the chest? Once you get a handle on that default perception spend 5-10 minutes with each of these other perceptions. Work with them over the week. Devise your own variations. And explore the level of comfort and pleasure that each can facilitate.
1. The Filled Body. As you breathe, invite the perception of the whole body being gently filled with the breath. Feel the expansive energy of the in-breath radiating from the core to the periphery. And feel a light energetic contraction as the body exhales. The main point is to broad one’s perception to include the whole body filling with breath energy.
2. Bathed in Breath. With this perception, rather than perceiving the body being filled with the breath, imagine the body being bathed in the breath. Here, you will sense the whole body as being surrounded by friendly breath energy. And with every in-breath, the body soaks up the breath through the pores of the skin and then releases the breath through those same pores. As this perception matures, you may start to feel the whole body as being saturated with lovely breath energy.
So, those are two different but interesting perceptions to work with. Of course, the variations are endless. Work with them, and test their potentials and limits!
Lastly, this approach to breath meditation is adapted from the teachings of Ajahn Thanissaro, a wonderful Buddhist monk. If you like this style, definitely check out his website:http://dhammatalks.org/index.html
Originally published on September 16, 2011