Not Observing Breath

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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Re: Not Observing Breath

Post by jcsuperstar » Sat Jul 17, 2010 12:47 pm

Collective wrote:Learning from books.

Currently: Mindfulness in Plain English by Gunaratana. Vipassana.

But he teaches to focus on the breath
i never read that book, i listened to some of his talks on metta but didn't really find them useful to my practice so i never continued with him.. bodom is a member here who really digs that book, I'm sure he could help you some. but what does the book say you should do? focus on the breath to the exclusion of everything else or not?
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Re: Not Observing Breath

Post by bodom » Sat Jul 17, 2010 2:19 pm

Mindfulness In Plain English Chapter 12...(Dealing with Distractions, II)
The purpose of meditation is not to concentrate on the breath, without interruption, forever. That by itself would be a useless goal. The purpose of meditation is not to achieve a perfectly still and serene mind. Although a lovely state, it doesn't lead to liberation by itself. The purpose of meditation is to achieve uninterrupted mindfulness. Mindfulness, and only mindfulness, produces Enlightenment.

Bhante G gives standard vipassana instructions using the breath. Focus on the breath until a distraction pulls your attention away from it, pain, noise, thinking etc. notice the distraction, see its impermanence, watch it fade away, return to the breath. Repeat as many times as necessary. Of course, and as Bhante G advises, if you are trying to gain concentration, jhana etc. you focus on the breath to the exclusion of everything else. Depends on what your trying to gain. Pure insight or jhana?

To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo

With mindfulness immersed in the body
well established, restrained
with regard to the six media of contact,
always centered, the monk
can know Unbinding for himself.

- Ud 3.5

"Dont send the mind outside. Watch the mind right at the mind."

- Ajahn Dune Atulo

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Re: Not Observing Breath

Post by IanAnd » Sat Jul 17, 2010 6:38 pm

Collective wrote:Another thing I realized is when I focus on the breath, I'm not fully aware of my surroundings.

The breath is all encompassing, enveloping - not sure if this is good or bad.

They say staying with the breath is being in the moment, but my awareness of the environment seems very hazy, distant, unreal, restricted.

This is not to say I don't sense anything. I'm not sleepy, or fuzzy minded, I actually sense everything. I can hear, feel, smell, taste etc, but these perceptions seem very unsubstantial, almost dreamlike. It got to the point where I was thinking, what's the point of being in the moment (with the breath), if I'm oblivious to my surroundings (restricted awareness).

Was I focusing on the breath incorrectly?

Learning from books.
Currently: Mindfulness in Plain English by Gunaratana. Vipassana.
But he teaches to focus on the breath
Hi Collective,

With regard to your primary question, Jc is correct. It depends upon what one is endeavoring to accomplish with the meditation. And Bodom is correct for pointing out that the purpose of meditation is the development of mindfulness. The problem with reading books in order to learn about meditation is that sometimes the book creates an unintended impression in the mind that "only do this, never do that." (The excerpt that Bodom lifted from the book points to this.) When what they really mean to communicate is: "Do this until you get to this plateau, and then do this other thing in order to continue making progress toward the goal. And then, once you've reached that next plateau, do this other thing." In other words, Buddhist meditation practice is designed to be a progression of learning and attainment, all dependent on what abilities the mind has accomplished and perfected over time and how it is able to use these abilities once it learns to put them all together and use them.

To use a metaphor, just as a baby cannot just stand up and run, it first must learn to crawl. Then it learns to stand on two feet. Then it learns to take a step while standing on two feet. Then it learns to put two steps together and walk. After it learns to perfect its ability to walk, it can try running. So, its a progression of learning abilities and perfecting them, and you go from one type of practice into another as you are learning to develop each of these abilities and perfect them.

In meditation practice and cultivation (bhavana) of the mind, what the person first, more often than not, needs to be able to accomplish with their mind is to be able to calm and quiet the mind so that the mind can then gain in its ability to focus and concentrate on one object or subject at a time. So, the whole focus of several sections of a book like Mindfulness in Plain English becomes helping the prospective meditator find out what meditation is, and then how to achieve calm and mental focus. After that, it focuses on achieving mindfulness. And then it differentiates between mindfulness and concentration. All this is quite a lot for a beginner to take in all at once. But, once you understand each of these sections and how to use them in conjunction with each other, then the parts of the puzzle begin to fall into place.

So, what you are learning about is a progression of meditation abilities and their perfection as you learn how to integrate them within an individual practice in order to use them to achieve awakening.

What you have been describing is the natural progression of your practice to be able to use the breath as an anchoring point and springboard from which to jump off onto other excursions. In the overall scheme of things, you are not meant just to focus upon the breath alone, to the exclusion of all other phenomena, but rather to use that focus in order to calm the mind so that insight into other phenomena has the space to arise.

So, for instance, when you are practicing samatha (mental calming) meditation, then, yes, your awareness of the five senses may become a little fuzzy, as you describe it. This is because the focus of samatha meditation is on calming the mind. Once you switch to vipassana (insight) meditation, then, yes, you can become aware of the five senses and all the detail that goes with that.

When you have learned how to achieve mindfulness, then you have the ability to be able to stay aware of the breath in the background (as an anchor for mindfulness) while also becoming more pointedly aware of the resultant connections (internal contact points of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue etc.) of the five senses with their external objects (the actual sights, sounds, odors, tastes etc.). This indicates that you are making progress on the path in addition to indicating a "sharpening of awareness" through mindfulness. See?
Collective wrote: Either way this new 'technique' of being more aware of everything and not one thing exclusively (breath) seems to have sharpened my awareness a lot.
Expanding your awareness is just part of the process of learning to meditate. In other words, you focus on the breath until you get to a certain point, and then you expand your awareness (through insight or vipassana meditation) to include more than just the breath. These two processes take place in conjunction with each other — that is, calming meditation and insight meditation. (And, as Jc aptly points out, the breath can always remain in the background as an "anchor" for mindfulness.)
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV

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Re: Not Observing Breath

Post by Collective » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:16 pm

The meditation I am practicing is Vipassana, insight meditation.

At the risk of sounding self praising, I seem to be doing very well going by the posts I've read here.

I start on the breath for a few minutes until the mind calms, and then I shift awareness to more peripheral sensations.

My mistake was thinking for insight I had to focus on the breath to the exclusion of everything else.

Thank you all :namaste:

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