Most of us live in cultures that are super busy and goal directed. In our meditation life, that same goal-directed energy is always searching for a special experience that’s higher, better, different from what’s happening right now, attainable only in the future. Fortunately, mindfulness is both the path and the goal of our practice. And the best way to begin mindfulness meditation is with the breath, our life-long companion. In fact, mindfulness of breathing is not just preliminary, but a practice that can take us all the way to full awakening.
Of course, without even noticing, we’ve been breathing naturally from the day we were born; we know that our last breath signals our death. When we bring a beginner’s mind, open and eager to learn, to being mindful about the process of breathing, something magical happens. Breath after breath, we’re present, showing up for the only moment we have to be truly alive – this one. Each breath is an invitation to relax, calm down, and discover a delightful new awareness of presence, suffused with joy and gladness. This is sometimes called ‘the limitless invitation’ because it’s extended to us in every moment.
How can we delight in our meditation? Learning to bring loving awareness to the breath, feeling the ebb and flow in real time as we sit quietly, is an art. The key is in our approach. Sometimes in practicing mindfulness of breathing, there can be an over-emphasis or insistence on focusing attention that drives delight down the drain. How we approach mindfulness of breathing is usually isomorphic, similar to the way we relate to other things and people in our lives. Here are some reflections for you to consider as you sit and breathe.
When you meditate, is your effort directed towards a state or goal or trying to get somewhere other than just where you are?
What happens if you take your seat on this beautiful earth, letting your body relax and settle, and your breath move in and out in its own natural rhythm, opening to where you are with clarity and kindness?
As you breathe, can you see how calm you are when, without resisting or struggling, you’re allowing all things to arise and pass like waves in the ocean, or clouds in the sky? This is a gateway to stability, balance, and wisdom.
As you breathe, can you bring attention to whatever brings pleasant feelings of contentment or joie de vivre, the simple joy of being awake and alive? See if you can welcome these feelings warmly; they give you strength to face the tough stuff with a more tender, loving heart.