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Stay With The Breath

--by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Jun 16, 2014)


Put aside your old ways of using your eyes and ears and nose, tongue, body, and mind to focus on issues outside there in the world, to get your knowledge about the world, to figure out how to gain what you want out of the world — and of course getting complacent and careless when you get what you want, and upset when you don't, and trying to find new ways of getting it. Now we want to use our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind for other purposes, just to see the processes of the senses as they happen, in and of themselves. Look at them in a way that highlights the movements of the mind, how the mind makes a choice, and how it enforces that choice, how it justifies that choice to itself.

All these processes are going on all the time, but we usually don't look at them because our attention is focused somewhere else far away. So stay right here at the breath, because this is a great place to observe all these other things. The Buddha makes a comparison to six kinds of animals. If you tie them all to leashes and tie the leashes together, the animals will all pull in their various directions to feed. The crocodile will want to go down to feed in the river, the monkey will want to go climb up to feed in the tree, the hyena will want to go to feed in a charnel ground, and so on. Depending on which animal is the strongest, the others get dragged along.

But if you tie them all to an immovable post, then no matter how hard they pull, they all end up staying right there at the post. The post here is mindfulness immersed in the body. The prime way of immersing mindfulness in the body is to be mindful of the breath. When you stay with the breath, you can detect the pull that goes out the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind to past and future, to your likes and dislikes. But you don't have to give in to that pull because you've got a place where you can stay grounded and secure. [...]

These things are all here to be observed. They're all happening all the time. But to see them we have to change our focus. To change our focus requires a change of heart, telling ourselves that this really is important, much more important than things outside. That's what conviction is all about. Appropriate attention is the change of focus; conviction, the change of heart. You make up your mind — and your heart — that this is an important issue that's got to be resolved, and this is the way to do it.

Thānissaro Bhikkhu first encountered Buddha's Four Noble Truths as a high-school student on a plane ride to the Philippines. After graduating, he traveled to Thailand to practice meditation and soon became a Theravada monk in the Thai forest tradition. Today, he is the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery in San Diego County, and is a notably skilled and prolific translator of the Pāli Canon.  The passage above is excerpted from 'Meditations 5'.

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14 Previous Reflections:

 
On Jun 24, 2014 Mandy wrote:

 This metaphor of different animals pulling against one another, with the strongest pull taking over the direction, made me think of emotions; primary and secondary. I thought of times when an insecure feeling or a feeling of inferiority becomes so loud and strong that it pulls me away from my spirit and other emotion and thought animals take the reigns. This idea of being tied to a center pole is such a strong metaphor for me - immersing into inner body mindfulness and observing the emotions and thoughts first, which then allows me to sense the process of sensing and I feel a place of calm and a looking out onto the experience nonjudgmentally. This is a wonderful exercise for me. 



On Jun 18, 2014 Mack wrote:

 Buddhists take refuge vows.  I took the vow long ago but it is recently that I began to see where I take refuge and feel the consequences.  My mind is always pulling me to take refuge outside of myself- food, drink, television, sex, politics- the list is endless.   Actually taking refuge in the breath as opposed to using the breath as an occasional breather from my real refuges is rather new to me. 



On Jun 18, 2014 Abhishek wrote:

 Beautiful....and very alive for me.....the breath speaks, and it is a highly accurate indicator....so often I find myself trying to reconnect to breath (when I am experiencing anger or irritation) and then it quickly slipping away! But the moments I am with the breath, I feel the difference in rhythm, depth and ease that tell me where I am located....

As for the body, it's intelligence is immense too....the challenge for me lies in shifting from the intellectual experience of what is going on in my body to truly experiencing it



On Jun 17, 2014 JH wrote:

 I have a hard time staying with my breath because it registers all of my stress, and then that awareness causes secondary anxiety about the effects of stress. It's not relaxing to tune in to my constricted breathing. I've found it easier to focus on my feet and/or focus on a mantra.



On Jun 17, 2014 James wrote:

 Yesterday I met with our landlord to discuss a 3 day eviction notice we had received a couple days before. Before arriving I went through the various scenarios that came to mind. I chose before hand the points I wanted to make starting with how grateful we are to have the pains and pleasures of living there. As the conversation began I noticed within me excitement and a raised tone of voice. I stopped for a brief moment and out loud suggested that I calm myself with a subtle breath and a "take it easy". The conversation continued and we both came to a resolution, I am grateful mostly for the daily practice of centering prayer that works in many ways. In Gratitude, Jim



2 replies: Pratibha, JH | Post Your Reply
On Jun 17, 2014 Matt wrote:

 I am enjoying doing elder service, this was so timely, this idea of helping does not come with the privilege of distraction, all of my sense as one mindfulness brings it all together. Peace,



On Jun 17, 2014 annie wrote:

I do a lot of painting outside directly from nature, and normally I am lost in seeing and moving the paint around for several hours, not unlike when I sing and then once more I am lost in feeling and sound. So for me, for someone who has spent her life looking 'out there'  it is difficult to constantly be aware of the senses through the senses, as and when they arise, whilst I would also describe myself as a sensitive and aware person.  Mindfulness, when sitting, becomes a retrospective time of noticing how I am often responding and curious, about how I am always being pulled and tempted through the sense doors. It's a strong pull, but mindfulness, also shows me, retrospectively,  how inaccurate, insubstantial, transient and ultimately unimportant my sense experiences are. To be aware of the senses, through the senses as and when they arrive, seems to be a good thing to aim for, not just to be fully anchored, here now in the heart, but to glimpse that which i  See full.

I do a lot of painting outside directly from nature, and normally I am lost in seeing and moving the paint around for several hours, not unlike when I sing and then once more I am lost in feeling and sound. So for me, for someone who has spent her life looking 'out there'  it is difficult to constantly be aware of the senses through the senses, as and when they arise, whilst I would also describe myself as a sensitive and aware person.  Mindfulness, when sitting, becomes a retrospective time of noticing how I am often responding and curious, about how I am always being pulled and tempted through the sense doors. It's a strong pull, but mindfulness, also shows me, retrospectively,  how inaccurate, insubstantial, transient and ultimately unimportant my sense experiences are. To be aware of the senses, through the senses as and when they arrive, seems to be a good thing to aim for, not just to be fully anchored, here now in the heart, but to glimpse that which is formless, both inside and out, that precious pot of gold that is at the end of all rainbows
 

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On Jun 17, 2014 genevieve wrote:

 This is the way I am practicing Tai-chi. Kind of meditation in mouvement. But never apply it to the daily life! I will try



On Jun 15, 2014 david doane wrote:

Using our senses to see the process of the senses means to be mindful of our sensing and to be a witness of our sensing as we are sensing.  I hardly ever do that kind of sensing.  I apparently don't want to be that aware, though I wonder what it would be like.  As far as I know, I am often fairly aware of my being and what I and others are doing and saying.  My mantra has long been process, not outcome.  I have long valued inner experience and not just outer things.  I am very aware of and protective of my freedom and to a great extent have eliminated blaming and making excuses.  I value and am somewhat grounded in 'mindfulness immersed in my body.'  However, I have difficulty simply staying with my breath, and don't even put much time or effort into cultivating that, so I don't know of an experience I've had where staying with my breath allowed me to be more aware of where I was being pulled.  When I am being pulled, I seem to be aware of  See full.

Using our senses to see the process of the senses means to be mindful of our sensing and to be a witness of our sensing as we are sensing.  I hardly ever do that kind of sensing.  I apparently don't want to be that aware, though I wonder what it would be like.  As far as I know, I am often fairly aware of my being and what I and others are doing and saying.  My mantra has long been process, not outcome.  I have long valued inner experience and not just outer things.  I am very aware of and protective of my freedom and to a great extent have eliminated blaming and making excuses.  I value and am somewhat grounded in 'mindfulness immersed in my body.'  However, I have difficulty simply staying with my breath, and don't even put much time or effort into cultivating that, so I don't know of an experience I've had where staying with my breath allowed me to be more aware of where I was being pulled.  When I am being pulled, I seem to be aware of it simply through my senses and by being aware of my senses.  Maybe I'm saying some of what the article is about in my own language. 

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