The Breath

…The third method is very ancient and found in all schools of Buddhism.

It is to rest your attention, lightly and mindfully, on the breath. Breath is life, the basic and most fundamental expression of our life. In Judaism ruah, “breath,” means the spirit of God that infuses the creation; in Christianity also there is a profound link between the Holy Spirit, without which nothing could have life, and the breath. In the teaching of Buddha, the breath, or prana in Sanskrit, is said to be “the vehicle of the mind,” because it is the prana that makes our mind move. So when you calm the mind by working skillfully with the breath, you are simultaneously and automatically taming and training the mind.

Haven’t we all experienced how relaxing it can be, when life becomes stressful, to be alone for a few minutes and just breathe, in and out, deeply and quietly? Even such a simple exercise can help us a great deal. So when you meditate, breathe naturally, just as you always do. Focus your awareness lightly on the out-breath.

When you breathe out, just flow out with the out-breath. Each time you breathe out, you are letting go and releasing all you’re grasping. Imagine your breath dissolving into the all-pervading expanse of truth. Each time you breathe out and before you breathe in again, you will find that there will be a natural gap, as the grasping dissolves. Rest in that gap, in that open space. And when, naturally, you breathe in, don’t focus especially on the in-breath but go on resting your mind in the gap that has opened up.

When you are practicing, it’s important not to get involved in mental commentary, analysis, or internal gossip. Do not mistake the running commentary in your mind (“Now I’m breathing in, now I’m breathing out”) for mindfulness; what is important is pure presence.

Don’t concentrate too much on the breath. What is very important, the masters always advise, is not to fixate while practicing the concentration of Calm Abiding. That’s why they recommend you place about 25 percent of your attention on mindfulness of the breath. But then, as you will discover, mindfulness alone is not enough. While you are supposed to be watching the breath, after only one or two minutes you can find yourself playing in a football game or starring in your own film.

So another 25 percent should be devoted to a continuous and watchful awareness, one that oversees and checks whether you are still mindful of the breath. The remaining 50 percent of your attention is left abiding, spaciously.

As you become more mindful of your breathing, you will find that you become more and more present, gather all your scattered aspects back into yourself, and become whole. Rather than “watching” the breath, let yourself gradually, the breather and the breathing, become one; duality and separation dissolve. You will find that this very simple process of mindfulness filters your thoughts and emotions.

Then, as if you were shedding an old skin, something is peeled off and freed.

~ Sogyal Rinpoche

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