Sacred West

Buddhism and Modern Life

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Taking the Breath As You Find It

August 18th, 2008 · 1 Comment · Filed under: Dharmic

I think many of us when we start mindfulness meditation with a focus on the breath have some initial work to do just finding the breath, sorting it out from the waterfall of thoughts in our minds.

Dharma practitioner Chodpa, after some time with a more formless meditation and now practicing Shamatha again with focus on the breath, has the opposite problem. He can find the breath okay, but it doesn’t seem to be anything.

Yet as my mind settles, the breath gradually goes out of view. As my mind settles, then I know more clearly, and the breath ceases to be a ‘thing’ which I can focus on. Instead of this ‘thing’ called the breath, which one might assume to be pretty continuous, and solid, a process with continuity, as it were … there’s …. well, what is there?
Where did my breath go?

Chodpa goes on to examine just what there is there. I love this kind of sharing, about our experience of practice. It’s the one thing I can do as a relatively new practitioner without stepping on teachings about which I know too little.

And it’s the greatest thing about the teachings of Buddhism, that they are presented to be experienced for oneself.

I spent at least my first year in Shamatha practice visualizing the breath that I was focusing on, although I never quite realized this.

And one day, when I guess I was pretty settled in and stable with all this, it occurred to me to wonder what my experience of the breath was actually like – I found myself in a different “place”, actually experiencing breathing without having any real picture or foreknowledge of what it was like.

I fell in love with that “place” on the spot, and could have wept with joy, to find myself in the nowness of my own experience. It was maybe the first time in my life.

Some time later I was volunteering at a weekend program at the Shambhala Center, and one of the beginners – she had been meditating for a week – told me she was color-coding the breath, visualizing the inbreath and the outbreath as two different colors. I told her to keep on doing this as long as she wanted, and one day she wouldn’t anymore.

The breath is phony, as Chodpa points out in his description of his own experience. As phony as the self, only more useful I’d say. I think I always knew this, from the beginning. I figured the breath wasn’t really the moment, because how could the moment be that long? But you have to start somewhere.

I can’t find a reference that gives me the exact number, or even the story now, but I’ve heard that the Buddha said that a single Snap! of the fingers is a length of time that subdivides into more than 300 pieces. This is how far you have to look to find the actual moment itself – if it can even be found, if such a thing even exists – or so it always seemed to me.

So it’s really great to see Chodpa discern the breath in its more momentary fragments. I hope he will write more about his experience with Shamatha. Will he find his “object” to focus on? We wait with baited…umm…well we wait that’s all :)

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Chodpa // Sep 2, 2008 at 3:53 am

    Hi there … thought I’d just comment on a couple of things:

    “I spent at least my first year in Shamatha practice visualizing the breath that I was focusing on, although I never quite realized this.

    And one day, when I guess I was pretty settled in and stable with all this, it occurred to me to wonder what my experience of the breath was actually like – I found myself in a different “place”, actually experiencing breathing without having any real picture or foreknowledge of what it was like.”

    This was so beautifully put :-) Many a time I notice myself tracing out what I think is the direct experience of the breath, only to find that I’m actually creating some sort of image or reflection of what the breath is, and actually following that with awareness. It’s as if the simple bare sensations are swapped with a thought or image of the breath, and somehow, stealth-like, ninja-like, this image was substituted in whilst my awareness was dull, and I didn’t notice the hand-over. And then there I am, watching something I’m actually creating, rather than resting in what arises without my prompting.

    “I can’t find a reference that gives me the exact number, or even the story now, but I’ve heard that the Buddha said that a single Snap! of the fingers is a length of time that subdivides into more than 300 pieces. This is how far you have to look to find the actual moment itself – if it can even be found, if such a thing even exists – or so it always seemed to me.”

    This is very interesting to me – reflecting on my experience, it certainly seems at times that I’m getting blips, or flashes, or segments of experience – small moments, or pulses which seem to make up what seems to be a smooth continuous experience when I’m not so aware. It’s as if there are waves or pulses to experience – I can’t honestly say that it seems to me that there are slices, or somehow discrete units to which I could give the name of ‘dharmas’. Thus far, I suspect it is mistaken to take dharmas as being discrete.

    I find it interesting to sometimes see how far down I can take my awareness in terms of how fine can I see the movement of mind. How fine can those movements be that I can become aware of. How many a second, if you want to become crass about it. It’s an interesting and revealing approach to take, sometimes ……

    “to find the actual moment itself – if it can even be found, if such a thing even exists”

    What is this ‘moment’? Why the interest in finding ‘it’? What’s that all about????

    very best wishes to you in the Dharma,

    Chodpa

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