silent present-moment awareness of the breath

POSTCARD#429: Bangkok: Hello and welcome back to our analysis of Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond – A Meditator’s Handbook by Ajahn Brahm. For me it’s a review of how I managed to find my way into meditation more than twenty years ago; remembering what I learned and looking at what I missed in the weekend teachings of the Dhammapala monks in their small monastery near Kandersteg in the Swiss mountains. Reading Ajahn Brahm’s teaching helps to fill in the small gaps in my understanding at the time, also to learn from quite a different point of view. For example, Ajahn spends some time in examining silence, the end of inner chatter, before going on to meditation on the breath.

“It would be marvellous for each one of us if we could abandon all inner speech and abide in silent awareness of the present moment long enough to realize how delightful it is. Silence is so much more productive of wisdom and clarity than thinking. When one realizes that, silence becomes more attractive and important. The mind inclines toward it, seeks it out constantly, to the point where it engages in the thinking process only if it is really necessary, only if there is some point to it. Once we have realized that most of our thinking gets us nowhere, we gladly and easily spend much time in inner quiet.”

For me, discovering Ajahn Brahm’s silence is like finding the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle:

“If you have developed silent awareness of the present moment carefully for long periods of time, then you will find it quite easy to turn that awareness onto the breath and follow that breath from moment to moment without interruption. This is because the two major obstacles to breath meditation have already been overcome. The first of these two obstacles is the mind’s tendency to go off into the past or future, and the second obstacle is inner speech. This is why I teach the two preliminary stages of present-moment awareness and silent present-moment awareness as a solid preparation for deeper meditation on the breath.”

Let me interrupt here to tell you of my own experience. Lying on your back is best. Arrange your body symmetrically, and tell your feet and legs to ‘go to sleep’. Then tell your back and shoulders to go to sleep – neck and face muscles go to sleep and arms and hands, wrists and fingers to go to sleep. So now what is left? The heaving abdomen doesn’t go to sleep; the diaphragm, lungs and somewhere in there, the beating heart. This is the whole experience of breathing. It never stops, it’s always there.

“When you focus on the breath, you focus on the experience of the breath happening now. You experience what the breath is doing, whether it is going in, going out, or is in between. Some teachers say to watch the breath at the tip of the nose. I have found through experience that it does not matter where you watch the breath. In fact it is best not to locate the breath anywhere. If you locate the breath at the tip of your nose then it becomes “nose awareness,” not breath awareness. Just ask yourself right now: “Am I breathing in or breathing out? How do I know?” There! The experience that tells you what the breath is doing, that is what you focus on. Let go of the concern about where this experience is located. Just focus on the experience itself.”

“When you know the breath is going in or going out for about one hundred breaths in a row, not missing one, then you have achieved what I call the third stage of this meditation, which involves sustained attention on the breath. This again is more peaceful and joyful than the previous stage. To go deeper, you aim next for full sustained attention on the breath.”

About the image above; Amida, lord of the Western Paradise, is seated in deep concentration with half-closed eyes and hands held in the gesture of meditation. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, images of Amida were created in large numbers as a direct result of the popularity of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan. The above statue is dated circa 1863 –1866. This Pure Land teaching celebrated the glories of the Western Paradise, which can be attained through meditation and recitation of Amida’s name.

Ajahn Brahm’s teaching continued next week 30 July 2012

9 thoughts on “silent present-moment awareness of the breath

    • Thank you for a very cheerful and bright comment. The instructions are clear enough: “abandon all inner speech and abide in silent awareness of the present moment long enough to realize how delightful it is.” Then you have the motivation. My problem is how long do I need to sit to find that – in view of the fact I may have to manage the headache? I suppose the answer is , try it and see

      • Just finished reading “Kindfulness” by Brahm. A book to be reread and reread and for Tom to read. He says to welcome any pain we may have. Not so easy but it is the basis for “pain management” techniques in the west. Really looking forward to trying some of his suggestions for meditstion “problems” I have been having. Think I will buy his other book, reread this one and wanted to ask you about his one on being grumpy. Have you read that?

      • Don’t Worry Be Grumpy it’s a play on Don’t Worry Be Happy – remember that song? No I don’t know the book. Ajahn Brahm is well known for his funny stories, and I don’t feel convinced without some more info. “Kindfulness” is different and I’d take your recommendation. Planning to get it on kindle or what is it called, where the story is read to you the listener. I’d like to try that (for the first time).

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