Mindfulness of Breathing

The mindfulness of breathing practice as taught here is available as a CD or as an MP3 audio download.”

This meditation practice, in one form or another, is very widespread in the Buddhist world. The particular form taught here — in four stages — is found in the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purity) of the great Theravadin scholar, Buddhaghosa, who lived in 5th century India and Sri Lanka. It therefore has a long pedigree, even if there’s no description in the earliest Buddhist scriptures that corresponds exactly with this form of the practice.

This particular version of the Mindfulness of Breathing is mainly aimed to calm and focus the mind, and is therefore what is known as a samatha (Sanskrit, shamatha), or calming practice rather than a vipassana, or insight, one. The Sanskrit equivalent to the word vipassana is vipashyana and both words mean insight, or truly seeing the nature of reality.

The traditional name for this meditation practice is Anapanasati. This word simply means mindfulness (sati) of breathing (pana) in and out. This is a meditation practice where we use the breath as the object of attention to which we return every time we notice that the mind has wandered.

In a nutshell, this practice works mainly through us withdrawing our attention from distracting thoughts and redirecting our attention to the physical sensations of the breath. By doing so, we are putting less energy into the emotional states of restlessness, anxiety, craving, ill will, etc that drive those thoughts. Over time the mind becomes calmer and our emotional states become more balanced and positive, and our experience becomes more positive.


By clicking on the player below, you can listen to a guided meditation that will lead you through the full four stages of the practice. There are also shorter forms of the practice in stages one through three in the rest of this structured guide to meditation.


It’s important to note that the practice involves noticing that the mind has been wandering and bringing it back to the breath. Distractedness is an inevitable part of the process of meditating and not a sign of failure!

This step-by-step tutorial includes a number of guided meditation recordings that will help guide you through the practice. There are also readings for each stage of the practice , dealing with the most common questions and addressing the most common experiences that beginners tend to have.

Although the meditation practice as taught here takes a samatha approach it is easy to bring elements of insight into a samatha practice. Also, some degree of samatha practice is virtually indispensible as a basis for vipassana, or insight, meditation. The mind needs to be somewhat calm in order for us to be able to reflect on the impermanence of our experiences!

There are other traditional forms that are widely practiced, especially in the insight meditation traditions, but I’ve found this one to be particularly suitable for complete beginners. The first two stages especially, which involve counting, are very helpful in stabilizing the mind.

More experienced practitioners can feel free to adapt the practice to their own needs, shortening or even dropping some stages, and extending others.

261 Comments. Leave new

avatar
Randy Whitwell
August 29, 2012 7:59 pm

Just want to say thanks. I have respected Buddhism from afar most of my life. I facilitate groups in Folsom Prison and frequently use poetry and other writtings in my sessions with the inmates. I stumbled on to your site recently and am now using it not only for others but for my own education in Buddhism. It has encouraged me to sign up for a meditation retreat in order to learn more about how to meditate. So again, Thank you for a great site for learning. Randy

Reply

Thank you for your kind words, Randy, and all the best with your prison work.

Reply
avatar
Managing the pain ……. « by the fellside
September 17, 2012 8:05 am

[…] mindfulness practice based on developing an awareness of breathing. You can learn more about it here. It might sound complicated, but its not at all. In fact the breath, its something we always have […]

Reply

Dear Bodhipaksa,

Thank you for the wonderful site. I have been following your advice and reading thru your articles for last couple of years. I have been practicing mindfulness for last 3 years and seen tremendous benefit.

However, lately I have been struggling. I have not been able to stay focused on the breath for long and see constant chatter in the mind. I have also observed that my reactivity to external stimuli – verbal, emails is becoming very strong. Though I can feel the body sensations changing to the stimuli and feel the stress, I have not been able to accept and manage it.

Request your advice.

Regards

Biswajit

Reply

Hi, Biswajit.

Have you been doing any lovingkindness meditation? I regard it as an indispensable companion to mindfulness.

It may also be that you’re clinging to the experience of calmness, or at least to the idea of experiencing calmness, which leads to increased sensitivity and reactiveness. Lovingkindness practice would help here too, but so would “just sitting” practice, where the breath may still be a loosely held focus, but there’s little effort made beyond simply coming back to a mindful state. I don’t have a formal guide to this practice, but I did write this article about it.

Reply
avatar
Multitasking – The Good and Bad « tommyslater
December 12, 2012 10:50 am

[…] You may not even realize it. Even if you think you’ve dropped everything else, while you are reading this very sentence, you’re also breathing right now. Well, I hope you are. If you aren’t, stop multitasking, stop reading, and go focus on your breath. […]

Reply

This website has been very helpful to my journey in mindfulness meditation. Bodhipaksa, you are the best!

Anyways, I have had one burning question about mindfulness meditation, and I have truly looked everywhere for the answer. It is very hard for me to find the sensation of my breath passing by my nostrils. Sometimes I feel the breath in my nostrils, and sometimes I can’t seem to find it at all. When I am doing mindfulness meditation, sometimes the feeling of breath in my nostrils is so subtle i’m not sure if it’s really my breath or if I am just imagining it! My question is: If I am just imagining the feeling of breath passing through my nostrils, is it okay to focus on that? Or does meditation only work if it’s a real, tactile sensation of breath? I really hope this question wasn’t too convoluted, and if It was I would love to re-phrase it. Thanks so much in advance for your help!

Reply

Thank you for your kind comment, Max. If you’d like to show support for what we do, please feel free to join our “Sit : Love : Give” program by making a one-time donation or becoming a monthly subscriber.

You didn’t mention how you get on in the other stages of the mindfulness of breathing practice as I teach it here, or whether in fact you do those stages. I’d encourage you to do so, since you begin with the less subtle sensations of the breath and then home in on the more subtle ones. In the third stage we learn to appreciate the subtlety of the “pause” between in breaths and out breaths, and in moving from the third to the fourth stage you can do this by gradually narrowing your focus, taking quite a few breaths to do this.

Is this the kind of thing you do, or do you tend just to plunge in to the fourth stage?

Reply

Thank you for sharing that link, I will definitely support the work you have done with this site!

I have to admit, I do just start with the final stage. I will go back and start from stage 1 again to truly find my breath. Thank you for the reply.

Reply

Ah, I’d wondered if that was the case. It would definitely be helpful to do the full practice, and also to do body scanning.

And any contribution would be gratefully received!

Reply
avatar
Dreich, dour and crabbit: does the weather explain Scottish negativity? Climate, posture, mood, empathy, mirror neurons, meditation and education. | The BioWrite Blog
January 17, 2013 7:55 pm

[…] of my New Year’s resolutions was to meditate daily. I simply concentrate on my breathing. Thoughts pop up, and I observe them and let them […]

Reply
avatar
Norman MacArthur
February 6, 2013 5:12 pm

I’ve been practising the mindfulness of breathing for about a month now and it’s going really well, feeling more awareness the more I practice and have already noticed some positive results and changes in my behaviour, so this is all good. I do however have a concern, this might sound strange but lately I’ve been noticing my thoughts processing rather slow, it’s as if (on occasion) what i’m thinking about is going slower in my head than it should (sorry, this seems to be the best way I can explain it) I don’t experience this during mediation at all. I don’t have any kind of mental illness or anything like that, used to experience anxiety issues a long time ago though. Could this just be my mind being clam for the first time in a long while? And for some odd reason i’m anxious about it? I’d really appreciate any feedback on this at all. Thanks =)

Reply

It certainly sounds like you may be anxious about a quitemnaturalmlevel of calmness. Do you do any lovingkindness practice? It’s good for developing more of a sense of appreciation and confidence.

Reply
avatar
Norman MacArthur
February 7, 2013 9:33 am

I’ve only just started practising the first stage of the Metta Bahavna, so I still need to learn how to do that. It does sound like it could help with this though. I’m hoping that this passes with time as it could be a result of the meditation actually working and I’m having an anxious response to it, obviously the opposite effect of what I’m going for here.

Reply

Dear
Good day!!!
I am practicing mindfulness breathing for almost 4 months. I am very comfortable to sit calm without any disturbances almost 30 to 40 min to practice mindful breathing. But,there are certain concerns and those are:-
a) While closing the eyes, my mind is moving through various thoughts and I am seeing places where I never had seen earlier ( like a dream)
b) When I close the eyes, when I start practicing,. I am giving full attention ( or sensing ) the breathe from the starting point of inhalation and following the breathe up to the end and repeating the same. Is this correct Practice? or wrong? But, when I practice in this way, I am enabling myself to follow the breathe or be with the breathe. Is this correct? or wrong Practice?
In anticipation to have your guidance.
Love
I.P. George

Reply

Hello, IP George.

It’s good to hear that your meditation practice is going well, and that you have few disturbances. This is impressive after just four months.

The dream-like imagery suggests to me that you could look for a little more alertness and attentiveness in your practice. So make sure that there is not any subtle slumping in your posture, since this can lead to poor breathing and a lack of mental clarity. Also make a gentle effort to perceive the breath vividly. You may need to focus on parts of the breathing that are a bit clearer and more vivid. Often this is in the nostrils.

Following the cycle of the breathing from beginning to end is fine, but I’m suggest that you try being aware of the fact that the sensations of the breathing are continuous. The breathing is an unbroken process, and by noticing that fact, you can develop greater continuity in your mindfulness.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

Reply

Dear Bodhipaksa
Thank you very much for your wonderful guidance. Thanks!!!!
I am trying to be more vivid and clearer but I was a heavy cigarette smoker for 20 years and quitting slowly. So, I hope, this bad habit which I carried so many years have seriously damaged my lungs and hence some difficulties. Is that so???. can you also suggest me what are the best hours of day for practice. Now I am doing it two times ( morning after breakfast) and then late evening before dinner. 30 to 40 min I am feeling and are with great urge to sit calm and Practice. Is that fine?? kindly guide me or do I need to increase the duration of practice.
with Love
I P George

Reply

Dear I P George.

I’m sorry to hear about the damage to your lungs. That shouldn’t affect your ability to detect the breath vividly, though. Mostly the vivid sensations are up in the nostrils.

You’re doing a very respectable amount of meditation! I commend you. I don’t know what you do in terms of mindfulness of daily actions, but generally I would suggest making more effort to take mindfulness and compassion into your daily life. You might want to create reminders to yourself (notes, or mental associations) that prompt you to become more mindful of your body, your breathing, your thoughts, feelings, and the world around you.

Reply

Dear Bodhipaksa
Good day!!!!!!!
Thanks again for your wonderful insightful guidance which will be followed in coming days with due respect and in the meanwhile, It will be highly appreciated if you could clear few of my doubts once for all and those are:-

(1) Regards to mindfulness of daily actions:

You are guiding me to follow mindfulness daily actions and by that are you guiding me to watch the daily actions as how it happening? I read the book “Power of Now” by Eckart Tolle and in that he explains to watch the actions of present moment. Is that same what you are recommending by way to follow mindfulness daily actions… If that so, when I cook food or when I eat food is that me need to give 100% attention only to that present action by way of diverting attention ( mind) from all other activities other than the action of that present moment.

(2) Regards to the reminders:
By this, are you guiding me to remind myself internally ( by self instruction to mind )? is that what you mean? As I told you earlier, I used to be a heavy smoker so the urge to smokes occurs in my mind all the time, so, in this time to avoid the urge is that required for me to give INSTRUCTION or reminders to self not to smoke… Is that what you mean by reminders????
(3) Regards to the Feelings:
watching/feeling the thoughts are practiced slowly even though sometimes getting confused at my own feelings. You are guiding me to watch the word around me, why?? and how?? Is that you mean to observe the world around me closely by way of giving attention to sunrise/day light/climate change or need to give attention/observation to my friends talks/laugh/complaints?

Please guide me…I am sorry to bother you with all these doubts but it will be great assistance for me practice mindfulness breathing with more joy and attention when the above doubts are clarified by you. Please Bodhipaksa
Regards
I.P. George

Reply

Good day, I.P. George.

1. “when I cook food or when I eat food is that me need to give 100% attention only to that present action…” Absolutely. When doing everyday actions, try to keep your mind on those actions, rather than daydreaming.

2. By “reminders” I mean this: We simply forget to be mindful a lot of the time. When we meditate, the mind wanders. When we’re working, or walking, or taking the bus, or having a conversation, the mind wanders. So it’s helpful to set up an intention to be present throughout the day. Our mindfulness will come and go, but it will come more often and go less often if we intend to remain mindful. But to help yourself remember this intention, it’s helpful to have reminders. For example, you can have notes in your workplace saying “notice” or “breathe” or “smile.” Or you can change the ring-tone or text-message alert on your mobile phone, and when you hear the different sound you’ll be reminded to be mindful. Or you can wear your watch on the wrong wrist. Do whatever you can to remind yourself to be mindful during the day.

3. I advise you to be mindful of the world around you because mindfulness needs to be applied to every experience we have. We need to be mindful of other people, mindful of the spaces we live in, of the things we use, of things that attract us or repel us. So you’re aware of things or people you’re seeing, and you’re aware of your immediate responses to those things, and being mindful we catch the mind when it goes wandering and starts creating stories. You might see someone smoking and feel desire, but when we remain mindful, thoughts of “I’d love a cigarette” are less likely to arise, and when they do we’re less likely to believe them and take them seriously.

Reply

Hi Bodhipaksa

I would like to ask something regarding stage 4 of the mindfulness of breath exercise.

During stage 4, I observe the sensations of the breath at the nostrils. However, while doing this, I do not try to deliberately hold my attention around this area (the nostrils) I just simply look for those sensations, which I can first detect during in-breath (or last during out-breath), and observe the qualities of these sensations (their exact position, length, etc), without using conscious effort to hold my attention at the nostrils.

I am asking this, because I find it really hard to deliberately hold my attention at my nostrils throughout the whole session. Therefore, I have decided to focus on the qualities of the sensations themselves (including their exact position), and let my attention automatically ‘be drawn to’ the place where these sensations occur (this does not always happen).

Is it all right if I do the exercise the above way?

Thanks for the help and support you provide for meditators. Its really helpful.

Nasdor

Reply

That sounds ideal, Nasdor. The less effort, the better.

Reply

Thanks for the quick reply.

Sorry, but I have forgot to include one more thing in my comment. Since I do not pay conscious effort to hold my attention at the nostrils, during the exercise, I am not aware of the exact ‘position’ of this small area (since I do not hold my attention there).

As I have said, I just simply look for those sensations, which I can first detect during in-breath (or last during out-breath), and observe the qualities of these sensations, without trying to ‘discern’ the rims of the nostrils from the other(higher) parts of my nose or consciously hold my attention there.

Is it all right if I do the exercise this way.

Thanks once more

Nasdor

Reply

I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re saying. You don’t have to make an effort to hold your attention anywhere to know where the position of a sensation is. Right now I’m feeling my bottom on a chair and my fingertips on a keyboard. I don’t have to make any effort to notice these sensations, and yet I know exactly where they are.

Reply

So, in other words, I can ascertain the qualities of these sensations of the breath (including their position), even if, during the exercise, I am not aware of the exact ‘position’ of the nostrils or can not discern this small area from the other parts of my nose.

Am I right?

Thanks once more

Reply

If your concern is whether you’re doing it right, I’d suggest just letting go of that form of anxiety and returning to the practice. Experiences vary widely, and I don’t imagine that any two people experience the breathing in exactly the same way. If its working for you, then that’s excellent. It certainly doesn’t sound to me that there’s anything to be concerned about.

In fact I’d suggest going just a bit further and becoming more conscious of the impermanence of the breathing — not just the beginning and ending of each in breath and each out breath, but the impermanence of each moment of experience. It sounds like you have enough stability of attention to be able to do that.

Reply

When you say that one should become ‘…more conscious of the impermanence of each moment of experience…’, do you mean that one should pay attention not only to the ‘stages’ (of the breath), like the beginning or ending of the in/out-breath. Instead, each little moment/part of the experience should be observed and noted.

In other words, I should regard the breath as more like a continuous process, where every little moment is ‘unique and impermanent’ and can serve as an ‘object of attention’.

I hope this is what you meant in your prev. comment.

Reply

Yes, although you can begin with noting that each in breath starts and ends, and each out breath does likewise. And then once you feel established in that you can note the stream of unique and impermanent moments. You can then, once you feel established in that practice, go on to notice that the consciousness that is aware of this is also changing moment by moment.

Reply

Hey bodhipaksa,

I understand that this is “mindfulness of breathing” but then how is this different than vipassana? Because in both you just use your breath as the object of meditation. I am just having difficulty understanding the two.

Thanks
Vrajesh

Reply

Hi, Vrajesh.

There’s not necessarily a lot of difference earlier on. In both cases you simply pay attention to the breathing, and when the mind wanders you bring it back.

The traditional approach (which I take) is that once the meditation is more established you can settle into jhana and then begin to notice the impermanence, non-self, and unsatisfactoriness of your (jhanic) experience. It’s doing those three things in meditation that makes the practice “vipassana.”

The Vipassana tend to be very suspicious of jhana, and try to cultivate insight without it. A lot of what they end up doing, however, isn’t actually vipassana at all. At that early stage of letting go of distractions and returning to the breathing, you’re doing a basic form of samatha (calming) meditation.

Reply
avatar
The Tapestry of Life | Meanderings
April 13, 2013 5:12 pm

[…] Buddhists promote a style of meditation called mindfulness. This style of meditation does not require a person to clear their mind. Instead, a practitioner […]

Reply

I just wanted to thank you for making this guide available online. It sounds trite when I put it into words, but it has made such a massive difference to my life.

Reply

The main problem what i am facing is being conscious of breathing, which in turn leading to heavy and disturbed breathing pattern. This is happening during the normal times of the day and not particularly during meditation. I am trying hard to divert the mind from being breath conscious, but not successful all the times. I tried the solutions suggested in your website such as “letting it go”, but even then I didn’t not find much relief. My strong feeling is observing the breath is not a good idea and should be left unconscious. Could you please help me out how to get rid of from being breath conscious during the normal time of the day. Thank you!!

Reply

When you find that you’re involuntarily paying attention to your breathing and also controlling it, start focusing on your heartbeat instead. Really notice the sensations of the heart beating, and how that feels in your chest.

Reply
avatar
I.P. George
May 5, 2013 9:19 am

Dear Bodhipaksa
Wish you a god day!!!!
I am doing the mindfulness everyday almost 1 hour ( 30 min at morning & 30 Min at evening) and I have the urge to do it more often than this, but again, my problem is based on the concentration. Even though I am able to count/observe the incoming & outgoing breathe, I am unable to concentrate more on it. In the meanwhile, one of my friend who does ( Trartak Meditation) or Flame Glazing told me that, it is better to do stare at a DOT without blinking eyes ( based on Hata Yoga ) and improve concentration and side by side doing mindfulness will be good idea but I am not fully convinced on this and I would like to hear your opinion about this Please.
Regards
I.P.George

Reply
avatar
I.P. George
May 9, 2013 1:39 am

Dear Bodhipaksa
Wish you a god day!!!!
I am doing the mindfulness everyday almost 1 hour ( 30 min at morning & 30 Min at evening) and I have the urge to do it more often than this, but again, my problem is based on the concentration. Even though I am able to count/observe the incoming & outgoing breathe, I am unable to concentrate more on it. In the meanwhile, one of my friend who does ( Trartak Meditation) or Flame Glazing told me that, it is better to do stare at a DOT without blinking eyes ( based on Hata Yoga ) and improve concentration and side by side doing mindfulness will be good idea but I am not fully convinced on this and I would like to hear your opinion about this Please.
Regards
I.P.George

Reply
avatar
Bodhipaksa
May 9, 2013 9:49 am

Good day to you, too!

It’s great to hear that you have a regular practice. It takes time to train the mind to become more focused, and in the meantime there are other qualities that you can be developing as part of your practice, including being patient with yourself (not being too concerned about progress), and having confidence in the process.

If you try this Trartak meditation you may well end up just wondering if you’re making enough progress, and then someone will come along and suggest something else, and it goes on and on. You need to stick with a practice in order to master it.

I don’t know if you’re doing any lovingkindness (maitri/metta), but I highly recommend alternating mindfulness of breathing and metta bhavana.

Reply

Hi Bodhipaksa

I would like to ask a question about the mindfulness of breath exercise. In stage 4, one observes the sensations (of the breath) around the nose-trills. During my session, I find it rather difficult to determine the exact position of these subtle sensations. Sometimes, I am less aware where a certain sensation is felt, and I wonder to myself:” where was it exactly?” (this happens rarely, maybe 2-3 times/session) When this occurs, I usually apply either of the two following approaches:

1, When I am less aware of the position of a certain sensation, I try to focus a bit more on the location of the (subsequent) sensations, while trying to remain aware of the other qualities of the breath (the temperature, its length, the pause between,…) as well. (I do not ‘zoom in’ an focus only on the position of the sensations)

2, I simply note the fact that “there was a sensation, whose position I do not know”. In other words, even if I am unaware of their position (or know only vaguely), I do not focus more on determining the position of the sensations (as I do in point ‘1,’), and continue observing the breath with ‘impartial’ attention (focus/observe all the qualities of the breath with more or less equal amount of attention).

Which of the above mentioned methods do you suggest? I tend to favor the approach outlined in point ‘1,’ since it helps me become more immersed in the observance of the breath. Thanks for your advice

All the best

Nasdor

Reply

Hi, Nasdor.

What you’re doing sounds fine, although I’m not clear why you need to try to pinpoint the position of these sensations. If you’re observing the sensations, that seems good enough. In meditation our sense of the body can change, so that the normal body shape alters or is lost completely. So it seems normal to me not to be concerned about the position of sensations.

How do you feel while you’re doing this stage of the practice? Do you feel happy? Vibrant? Calm? Relaxed?

Reply

Thanks for the quick reply. When sg worries me concerning the proper execution of my exercise, it usually prevents me from reaching calmer states. However, if I manage to hold a reasonably empty mind (without such worries), I usually reach a calmer,relaxed state, which is often (not always) accompanied by certain energetic sensations. In addition (as you noted in your post), the awareness of my body can also change (I feel like ‘expanding’, my arms/legs seem to get lighter or my perception of my body becomes somewhat ‘muted’,…). If the perception of my body becomes too vague, I no longer try to determine the position of a sensation, and simply note that ‘there was a sensation somewhere’ (I do not try to ascertain its position), and continue observing the breath (with all its qualities) where I feel it first entering my body.

However, while I still retain some degree of perception of my body, among their other qualities, I usually note (or try to be aware of) the position of the sensations as well. For instance, if I only feel the in-breath in my left nose-trill, I note that ‘I felt something only in my left nose’. While doing this, sometimes, I am less aware where a certain sensation is felt. When this happens, I apply either of the two methods outlined in my prev post.

I think either one is fine. If you say that I should not be concerned about the position of the sensations too much, I will go for the method given in point ‘2,’, and when I am less aware of the position of a sensation, I simply note this fact and continue observing without focusing more on determining the position of the sensations. Is my approach all right? Is it all right, if I observe (try to be aware) of the position of the sensations as far as the ‘level’ of my perception (of my body) permits it?

Thanks once more

Sandor

Reply

Is it all right, if I observe (try to be aware) of the position of the sensations as far as the ‘level’ of my perception (of my body) permits it?

Of course. The calmness and energetic sensations you’re describing are a good sign. I’d recommend not getting too caught up in whether you’re doing the practice right and allow yourself to be aware of any pīti (pleasurable energy in the body) and sukha (joy) that emerge. Let the emergence of those be the sign that you’re moving in the right direction.

Reply

Hi Bodhipaksa

A question occurred to me during stage 4 of my last practice: When I experience peculiar sensation (for instance, I feel the tactile sensation only during the second part of the in-breath, and feel nothing in the first part), it sometimes piques my interest. Therefore, when having a new/peculiar kind of sensation, I begin to focus a bit more on that aspect of the breath (in my example, I begin to pay a bit more attention to the in-breath), while trying to stay aware of the other qualities/parts of the breathing as well.

Is my approach all right? Or should I, when experiencing sg peculiar, simply note that ‘there was a tactile sensation only in the second part of the in-breath’, and continue doing the exercise without reacting.

I believe, both approaches are correct, and I tend to alternate between the two (sometimes I begin to focus a bit more on the peculiar sensation; whereas, other times, I simply note its occurrence and continue without any change)

Thanks for answering. I am really grateful for your suggestions.

Nasdor

Reply

Hi Bodhipaksa

In stage 4 of the ‘mindfulness of the breath’ exercise, one should observe the sensations around the nose-trills. (I tend to consider a bit wider area, stretching a few millimeters above and below my nose-trills)

Is it all right, if I disregard a sensation, which I feel to be noticeably above (in my nose) than my nose-trills, even if at that particular in-breath that is the first/lowest place where I can detect the breath? (at that moment, I do not feel anything below in the lower parts of my nose)

In ‘deeper’ states, I find it harder to perceive the position of my body (and the position of the sensations). Therefore, in these ‘deeper’ states, I am less concerned about the fact whether the particular sensation I am feeling corresponds to the position of my nose-trills or not. I usually, simply observe those sensations, which first can be felt during in-breath, and only dismiss those sensations, which are noticeably elsewhere than my nose-trills. This entails that sometimes I might dismiss a sensation, which actually is at my nose-trills, or the opposite (consider a sensation, which is elsewhere than my nose-trills).

Could you tell me? Is it all right to do the exercise this way? Thanks for answering

All the best
Nasdor

Reply

I can’t help thinking that you might be too caught up in “doing the practice right.” Do you enjoy your practice? Is it deeply joyful? I hope that you’re able to relax into it and experience the flow of jhana.

Reply

Thanks Bodhipaksa for this wonderful site. You very nicely explain everything! it is very helpful!

Reply

I believe, you are right. Over analyzing things tend to have a negative effect on my practice, since it leads to unnecessary amount of worrying, which prevents me from reaching a calmer deeper state.

In my above post, I just wanted to know if it is all right to dismiss a sensation, which I feel to be above that small few millimeter wide area surrounding my nose-trills? (even if, at that moment, I do not feel anything below that sensation)

In addition, in deeper states, I am less aware of the position of these sensations. Therefore,I might dismiss a sensation, which actually is at my nose-trills, or the opposite (Consider a sensation which I feel to be around my nose-trills; but in reality, that sensation is elsewhere above in my nose).

Reply

Yes, but it’s that “wanting to know” that fuels your worrying. Worrying isn’t helpful for your practice. Try letting go of those concerns and relax into the experience.

Reply

Hi Bodhipaksa

When doing ‘mindfulness of breath’ exercise, besides other qualities, one observes the duration of the in/out breath.

While doing this, is it a good idea to silently note/be aware if the breath is shorter/longer (than usual)?
Can I also pay attention to the difference in length between the in-breath and the out-breath?
For instance, in my case, I often find that the out-breath is a bit shorter than the in-breath. Therefore, I believe, its a good idea to pay attention to it and silently notice when this happens. (be aware of it without verbalizing)

Thanks for answering.

Nasdor

Reply
avatar
Patricia Heyworth
July 25, 2013 4:17 pm

Hi,

This is possibly a silly question but I have stomach issues (not sure if IBS or hiatal hernia as my Doctor hasn’t identified it). This means I feel as if i often can’t expand my stomach to get a proper breath in. As a beginning mediator focusing on my breathe is really difficult because the discomfort of not being being able to expand my stomach causes me to be irritated with myself. I would just be grateful on whether I can still get any benefit from meditation even if I don’t breathe properly:(

Kind wishes

Patricia

Reply

This isn’t a problem. Just let the breathing happen and notice the sensations and notice what your mind does. Meditation isn’t a breathing exercise, so it’s not strictly necessary to have “proper” breathing, although “proper” breathing never does any harm :)

Reply

Bodhipaksa,

I’m trying to practice mindfulness by focusing on my breath.

When something other than my breath grabs my attention I acknowledge it and then come back to my breath.

The problem is so many things grab my attention I spend most the time just acknowledging those things. It’s to the point where most of my time meditating is spent acknowledging things that grab my attention and very little time is actually spent focusing on my breath.

My question is it OK to spend the majority of the meditation time acknowledging the things that come into your awareness and very little time actually focusing on the breath?

Thanks!!

Reply

Yes, it is OK. If that’s what’s happening, that’s what’s happening. Just keep going and things will, on the whole, tend to settle down.

Reply

Dear Bodhipaksa,

Thank you for all you do.

While practicing mindfulness meditation I am increasingly experiencing, from time to time, an unexpected deep release of air through the mouth. It does not interfere with my regular breathing or with the meditation.

I am curious to know whether this is something that indicates a positive or a negative sign of my meditation’s progression.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Light and blessings.

Reply
avatar
Using our emotional intelligence - Pathways To Change
October 31, 2013 7:13 am

[…] am a great advocate of breath work.  There’s a  buddhist practice – the ‘mindfulness of breathing‘ that asks the meditator to become aware of two pause points within the cycle of in and out […]

Reply
avatar
Why would I want to count my breath for twenty minutes ? | Love Life Project
January 27, 2014 5:09 pm

[…] during my meditation. I find it hard to stop the mind wandering. Fortunately, I have found a great website that explains meditation very clearly and provides guided […]

Reply

Hi,
I’m just wondering how long to focus on one stage before moving on to the other. I am truly finding this site helpful, I just find myself guessing or contemplating if I am developing a proper practice.
Thank you.

Reply

Usually people give an equal amount of time to each stage. So if you have 20 minutes and a four-stage practice, then five minutes for each stage.

Reply

Hello Bodhipaksa, I hope this message finds you well.

I am in the process of beginning meditation, and I need a bit of guidance. I know that I should not worry much on the practice and simply let things flow, but I still would like a bit of advice in the overall direction of my practice.

I feel that there are two paths I can take during meditation. One is where I focus on the breathing to the extent that it fills my entire awareness. The only problem is this seems to put me into a semi-trance state, where my conciseness simply becomes the breathing.

The other direction is where I attempt to hold my consciousness back, and be aware of myself and the breathing at the same time. This is much more difficult to do, as I feel I am fighting to focus on two things at once.

I enjoy the trance state more, but I feel that it might be counter productive. When you are practicing mindfulness during the day, you need to be aware of what your doing. I feel that the point of the entire practice is to be conscious of what is happening to you, and choosing to remain focused on it. Because of this, I feel that while this trance state may feel better and be easier, it is not really helping learn how to focus in everyday life. What do you think?

Thank you for all your amazing guidance!

Reply

Hi, Wesley.

I don’t know what you mean by a “trance” state, never having experienced anything in meditation that I would use that word to describe (except for states of distractedness).

Anyway, both directions that you’ve identified are useful — whether it’s allowing ourselves to be absorbed in the breathing to the point where other sensations fade away, or maintaining a broader field of awareness where we’re open to noticing whatever sensations are arising.

They’re actually complementary activities, and both will help you to be more focused in everyday life. The approach in which you have a narrower focus on your breathing is still training the mind to be less distracted and more present. That undistractedness and state of presence will carry over to your daily life and be of benefit.

Reply

Thank you for the quick response! I was finally able to work out my problem. I discovered that this trance state I mentioned really meant I was beginning to fall asleep.

I do have one more question though. I noticed when I meditate with my eyes closed, it is much easier then attempting to keep mindfulness throughout the day (when my eyes are open). Because of this, I am considering the idea of switching to meditating with my eyes open as well. What are your general thoughts on this, and do you have any suggestions for starting a new practice using this technique?

Thanks again!

Reply

“Falling asleep” is certainly an experience I can relate to, even if “trance” isn’t :)

I’m not quite sure I understand your question. You seem to be saying that meditating with your eyes closed is easier, and therefore you want to meditate with your eyes open? I don’t follow the logic.

Reply
avatar
Nemanja Stefanovic
March 27, 2014 1:02 pm

Good day Bodhipaksa,thank you for existing and for making this site.

To explain “my problem” (will try to keep it short,but it still may be long..) i will begin with very reason i started meditating. I am a professional volleyball player,that is what i do for living,born on February the 12th 1989. My career so far wasn’t quite what i expected it to be. I had a great start,won championships,played for youth national… But all that was very stressful,i had a good coach but was really affecting my mind(i was 18),by the way he was yelling,cursing,implying fear. Even though i was playing very good,was the best in country for my age,i wasn’t enjoying,it was too much adrenaline and stress. I changed clubs,never got to play for national team again (when there was my rightful place,i thought) and in each club i had “problems” because it wasn’t going the way i expected,having in mind the effort i put into training and play. I was too much attached to volleyball,i still probably am,i was aiming for wrong goals. Especially after last year season,i was playing in Poland (in the top 3 leagues of the world) and i thought “this is it! my chance! there won’t be second chances”. It was the biggest defeat… I didn’t play almost at all,self confidence was zero. I was afraid to even touch the ball,cause the object (volleyball) would instantly produce negative thoughts. I went back to my home,low level league,to play more matches,to regain what i once had,good play. Alas, another coach,this time the opposite of the 1st one,he was just getting on my nerves. Not to mention the still present stress and adrenaline in play. This had to stop! Voila,somehow i stumbled up on meditation and on your precious site with instructions. And it started working! After meditating for a while(3-4 weeks),for the first time after 6 years,i played and i was smiling! Not thinking about errors,no coach or anyone else could affect me,simply enjoying! This got very interested in meditation,and buddhist teachings and every day i enjoy reading something about it. And now here is the problem (finally) :D I now know that something i consider/feel bad about is just because i think it that way,that its no the the truth.

Now,4 months since i started meditating,old fears are coming back,showing me that they were not extinguished. I don’t want to be the best or to be happy when i am playing good. I just want to play the best i can and not think about errors or (most of the time) think of myself playing bad,which brings emotions and feelings of grief,sorrow and low esteem. And sometimes i think that because of concentrating on other stuff than volleyball,i will play bad. If i make mistakes,which is normal,it seems like these thoughts get the confirmation that they are true,and continue to bomb me. And these thoughts,if they succeed in poisoning my mind,are followed by bad thoughts considering any object or any activity i do. I fight them with all techniques,which work,bud the number of thoughts and their strength is sometimes overwhelming,and cant be fought off unless constantly focusing on something else – meditation. This was quite a problem for me for last 3 weeks or more,and i am constantly thinking of the way how to end this,alas, thinking how to end a problem is thinking of the thoughts of problem, which is a problem :D I feel better already by writing all this,but a word of advice would be appreciated.

Best wishes and thank you for everything!

Reply

Hi, Nemanja.

I managed to combine both of your comments into one.

Thanks for writing, and for sharing such an interesting story. I’m glad to hear that you found meditation to be so beneficial. It seems you had an experience of what Suzuki Roshi called “beginner’s mind,” where things go well. Unfortunately, as you’ve found, the reactive parts of our mind can find ways to reassert themselves.

I’d suggest that the most beneficial thing you could do right now is to befriend those feelings of fear, grief, and sorrow. My guess is that you tend to get caught in a reactive loop, where you’re responding to anxiety with more anxiety. This is very, very common. The way out of that loop is first, acceptance, which means that you have to accept that it’s OK to be anxious. You have to be prepared to allow your anxiety to be there. When you’re experiencing anxiety you can say things like “It’s OK to feel this. Let me feel this.” It helps to notice exactly where you feel your anxiety most strongly in the body. Notice the shape and texture of your anxiety. You may find that you have a sense that anxiety is present as part of your experience, but that the totality of “you” is not anxious.

Second, you can recognize that your anxiety is a part of you suffering, and give that part of you your love and compassion. I don’t know if you’ve learned any lovingkindness meditation, but basically as you mindfully notice your anxiety, you regard it kindly and say things like “May you be well; may you be happy.” Regard the suffering part of you as being like a frightened animal that needs kindly reassurance.

The aim is not really to get rid of the anxiety, but to give it your compassion because compassion is the most appropriate response to pain. Imagine if you had a friend who had experienced a bereavement and was in a state of grief. Your aim would probably be to be a compassionate presence for your friend while the experienced their grief, rather than to try to make the grief go away.

What I’ve said about anxiety can be applied also to grief and sorrow, and to any painful feeling. And you may come to recognize that it’s OK to experience these things. You can experience anxiety, for example, and not have to be dragged down by it.

I hope this is helpful in some way. Please do feel free to let me know how you get on.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

Reply
avatar
Nemanja Stefanovic
March 28, 2014 6:18 pm

Thank you for quick response!

I must say again that putting my problem on “paper” helped. What i tried yesterday and today on trainings,before reading your reply,is constantly focusing ,more and harder, on emptiness,keeping the mind in noting mode,focusing on something else (breath,body parts,sound) when the thoughts arise,just like when meditating in posture. Simply noting those thoughts,not looking back,immediately getting back to present moment and emptiness. It does work,with everything,every bad thought. I have a feeling sometimes that i am overdoing it,applying this method to all thoughts,sometimes even to pleasant ones,when not needed,during the day,cause i feel stable,better not let good thoughts because more bad thoughts might follow ,”feels good not to feel”. Bad thoughts will “attack” and affect if my mind is “off guard”.
This method seems a bit forceful,sometimes producing more confusing thoughts (i.e. “are you relaxed?” “is this the way to do it?” “will you be able to always to this?” …) but i deal with them quickly in the same way. Could this be one of the “five faults”- over application? Am i doing something wrong? Its hard to get in this state,and very “exhausting” if it takes more time. Can bad thoughts somehow forever be extinguished? I will try acceptance and loving kindness method,never actually did anything else than breathing and walking meditation.

Thank you again for everything!

Reply

Hi, Nemanja.

If it’s exhausting, then I think it’s safe to say that you’re over-exerting yourself, and that it’s not sustainable. You might also create more problems because you’re repressing your doubts rather than dealing with them.

There aren’t really any “bad” thoughts. Think of them more as “unhelpful,” because they’re not contributing to the kind of quality of experience that you like. But the more we practice mindfulness and lovingkindness/compassion, the less those thoughts tend to arise. And when they do arise, they’re easier to deal with, by simply acknowledging them, letting them go, and responding compassionately to the pain they cause.

Lovingkindness really is an essential complement to mindfulness practice. I would never suggest that someone do only mindfulness meditations.

Reply
avatar
Nemanja Stefanovic
May 4, 2014 12:54 pm

Hello Bodhipaksa! Thank you so much…

I guess this is going to be another long post :) … I have a great urge to write what i have realized. Maybe i won’t be able to put it all here and in the words. I am not going to write about meditation (the doing of it,visions,sounds,problems…) but instead what i have gained so far from it. To the the people who want to know my story,and are reading this comment,scroll up to my previous posts,they are very long and wont be missed… :) What i gained is realization which came after 6 months since i started meditating (Thanks to you again,Bodhipaksa,and this precious site). Think i was at the edge of madness,because of all the
ignorance,missunderstanding,impatience,when i realised the following a few days ago(it was no magical moment,just the thoughts came up,and it happened while i was training my jump). I DO deserve everything that happened,everything that is happening,everything that will happen. I should be happy with what i have and what i feel,because what i have is what i wanted,what i wanted is what i thought about,what i think is what i am. This does sound like someone else wrote it,but i have putted these words from my on thoughts and they are written by me at back of my notebook,in my native language.Now, I am certanly not saying that i am enlightened,just
to make that clear,because i do have desire(s)… This all helped me realize what i have forgotten. I have forgotten what i did when i was younger. I forgot how and how much i trained. I did it with more heart,compassion,learning,but with always wanting more aswell (the best!) also,i can surely say,to the point of madness… And i always got the result which i wanted,almost instantly. Justified,yes,i really have comitted myself to volleyball. But still, i wanted more and better :) … I will jump to the point (i should leave details for a book maybe). Suffering is given to me ,and to all, in exact amount according to our desires. From suffering we learn,from learning we do,
from doing we know,from knowing we have. So love and say “thank you!” to everything, because it is teaching us. Every moment,every thought,every breath,everything is teaching you if you can look at it through the prism of noble path. Even when if something is only bad,does not have virtue,whatver it is(say you saw the devil itself),you will ,at least, know where not to look,which is already a good. Always look for good in everything. People should understand that it is not bad to desire,it is smart not to desire because you wont suffer,suffering is not bad by itself,it is our attitude ,not wanting to learn and get from suffering, that hurts us… People who are enlightened have no desires,but surpassing the desire not to desire anything,only to see truth,is the biggest desire of all,and it probably bears greatest suffering. It is not the point not to think (though i can see the benefits of this aswel),but to think right and good,and in everything i begin to see good now. One is master in any skill,when he is able to perform at maximum and without exerting himself in effort,when he just does,and this is achieved through practice,of body and mind. Bodhipaksa,when you told me i should do lovingkindness and accept things and be gentle,i saw only words,now i see the meaning,and the reason to do it… Can’t believe i wrote this all by myself,i feel so inspired,everything starts to make sense.
All the best and only the best wishes,thank you Bodhipaksa.

Reply
avatar
Bodhipaksa
May 9, 2014 9:39 am

One think I encourage people to do, and which I’m delighted to see that you too have stumbled upon, Nemanja, is to say “thank you” for every experience we have, even the difficult ones. There’s always something to be thankful for, even if it’s just that we’re alive or that our senses are functioning.

There’s only one thing you said that I think could be misunderstood: “Suffering is given to me, and to all, in exact amount according to our desires.” That’s true for the secondary and self-inflicted suffering that we experience, but there is also primary suffering, such as pain, hunger, and even fear, that has little or nothing to do with our desires, and is just a consequence of being human. If a child is hurt or terrorized by an adult, for example, we should never assume that the child’s suffering is the result of his or her own desires…

Reply

One thing I noticed after three sessions of this type of meditation is I enter a state of super awareness after the meditation. It wears off after awhile, but then I also start to realize how much of my life I spend in my own little world. When I think about things that happen in my day, or scenarios that I wish had happened differently, I nudge myself back to awareness and am amazed by how much time I spent in thought and not paying attention to anything going on around me. This technique is amazing.

One thing that I still don’t quite get. I understand the benefits of being more peaceful, into each moment, and really enjoying life. Is meditation just an infinitely ongoing process? Is there an end goal?

Reply

I’m glad to hear that you’re experiencing this, Jonathan. Yes, meditation is an ongoing process. There is no end point (except perhaps enlightenment). We just keep working on becoming kinder and more mindful, so that we improve our own lives and have a better effect on the lives of those around us.

Reply
avatar
Mindfulness - An Alternative Approach to ADA
June 27, 2014 7:11 am

[…] Mindfulness of Breathing | Wildmind Buddhist Meditation I would actually recommend the above followed by Mindfulness in Plain English, the reason is that I feel Mindfulness in Plain English is actually poorly structured as a book, it just feels all over the place sometimes, it has a lot of great insights and it is definitely a must-read but it can also be confusing and in my opinion can come off as somewhat cynical (I don't think that's the intention and once you start meditating you realise what it's talking about, but at first it might seem that way). […]

Reply

Firstly can I thank you for the time you have spent helping others with your kind words Sir.

It can be the hardest thing ever when you first start to mediate. Having someone so wise to answer your initial questions is clearly a blessing and much help to all.

Sir, I asked a local Buddhist group the follow question, and they ignored it, and then sent me a URL for a book called Introduction to Buddhism!

However I have been meditating for the last 22 years since I was 17 (1992) on Mindfulness and Metta, and other visualization techniques.

So could I please ask you the same question, even though in truth you answered a similar question near the beginning, if only again so people can read about experiences with deep meditation?

Once you ‘separate’ via mindfulness, and see symbols (“thoughts”) at the root nature, outside and floating up, Is there still more than can be achieved? (see questions at end of post).

Just to explain this further to others. In deep Mindfulness, when I watch my breath to a deep level, I know “I am NOT my body!, and, “My body breathes me.” Also, “thoughts” become things external, I am able to inspect and watch them. These includes things such as “There is an Itch!”.

1) In Mindfulness, should I just learn what I see (“thoughts”), and then ignore them and try and go deeper?

2) Can I use Mindfulness, to go ALL the way? Or would I need a teacher or guide to take me further.

3) Do you use the 9 levels of consciousness? If so, can I ask, are these just experienced during mediation, or can some of the later ones, err, “become part of normal life”. (eg Level 7?)

Thank you for any replies. I hope this message finds you well.

Reply

Hi, Chris.

It’s great to hear that you’ve been meditating for so long.

You asked three questions:

“1) In Mindfulness, should I just learn what I see (“thoughts”), and then ignore them and try and go deeper?”

I’m not 100% sure I understand your question. If thoughts arise, then just acknowledge them and keep going with the practice. But I assume you know this :)

“2) Can I use Mindfulness, to go ALL the way? Or would I need a teacher or guide to take me further.”

It’s hard to make generalizations, but I think most people need a variety of practices, and a sangha. Sangha challenges us, and also gives us support. As part of a sangha we may have one or more people we can turn to for advice. You could call them teachers, or mentors, or friends.

“3) Do you use the 9 levels of consciousness? If so, can I ask, are these just experienced during mediation, or can some of the later ones, err, “become part of normal life”. (eg Level 7?)”

I assume you mean the four jhanas, the four formless spheres (ayatanas), and the nirodha samapatti. I do explore the jhanas and have some experience of the formless spheres, but not of the nirodha samapatti. It’s certainly possible to carry experiences of the first three jhanas into daily life, but not the fourth jhana or any of the other five states.

By the way, apologies for the delayed reply, but I had a very busy summer and couldn’t keep up with the volume of comments on the blog, especially since many of them, like yours, were rather lengthy.

Reply

Dear Bodhipaksa,
I have really enjoyed your website have been practicing and reading here for two months now. I have been sober from drugs and alcohol for seven years and last year I went into a deep depression which landed me in the hospital. Coming out of that depression, I realized I had replaced drugs and alcohol with sex. I am now free from all three and am finally experiencing growth for the first time in a long while.

Ever since I was a child I had strong unreasonable fears. When I was 8, in 1978, my mother committed suicide and these fears escalated to near dysfunctional levels. When I was young, I had a close neighbor who was very religious and he told me a story about when the end of the world comes, animals and insects will become very large and devour humans that are bad. Ever since I have had dreams where an insect descends upon me- usually a mosquito -growing larger and larger. This would conjurer up fears, of course, and through the years I have experienced this “bigness fear” outside of dreaming and the context of insects.

I have been practicing the breathing meditation and when breathing out, arrive at the number 1. I can see it in my mind. Waiting for my arrival at the end of the exhalation. As I continue, the numbers have been getting bigger and this “bigness fear” comes alive. One part of me was excited because I thought I might begin to approach this fear, sit with it and accept it. The other day I thought I was doing the “breathing two” meditation but it turned out to be the emotional awareness meditation. I just went with it. The fear came over me so powerful this time that I had to open my eyes. The fear lessened. I am becoming frustrated because the fear overpowers me and I end up not wanting to meditate.

I would like to thank you in advance for your response. I am open to any insight and suggestions you might have with this strange scenario.

Reply

Hi, Bubba.

Apologies for the delayed reply, but I’ve been on vacation with my children and so the unmoderated comments have been piling up.

Yes, that is an unusual situation. I’ve read a little about Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) which is an offshoot of hypnotherapy, and one of the principles they use is of consciously making images larger or smaller in order to change their emotional impact. So if you want to, say, help yourself to meditate every day, and part of your motivation is that you’d like to be serene and happy, you can imagine yourself serene and happy and magnify that image, until it’s very large. You can also make the colors more vivid. Conversely, if there’s something that frightens you, you can consciously make the image smaller to make it less threatening. Obviously you’re doing the opposite of this (and you’re doing it unconsciously) but I wonder what would happen if you tried simply “zooming out” of scary-large images until they’re very far away, and if you made them black and white, and grainy, like on an old TV. It’s just a thought.

In terms of meditation, I don’t encourage people to visualize the numbers, but to say and hear them. Perhaps you’ve tried that and the images have spontaneously appeared, but even then you can choose to focus more on the sound (as well as making the images smaller, more distant, and less colorful). Is this something you can try? I’d be very interested to hear how it goes.

Reply

Respected Bodhipaksa, I also started to meditate but not getting time because of office timing. As i heared meditation is good in the morning and evening.My office timings are 3:00 pm to 11:30 pm. So please suggest me what time is best for me for meditation.

One more question can this do just after dinner?

Reply

Hello, Deepak. I think the most important thing is to meditate, and that when we do it is less important. Meditating in the evening is much better than not meditating at all! When we talk about meditating in the morning, though, we don’t literally mean “the morning,” but just “soon after rising from sleep.” At that time (whatever the time actually is) the mind is much quieter than it is later in the day, and meditation tends to go better. Later in the mind has been stirred up by the events of the day, and the mind is more unruly. We can still work with it, but it can be more of a struggle.

Reply

I am finding it hard to concentrate on my breathing. I don’t know how to do it. Please help.

Reply

If by concentrating on your breathing you mean “keep your attention on your breathing in a sustained way,” then that is hard. So we just accept that it’s hard. Notice your breathing, realize you’ve got distracted, come back to noticing your breathing. And repeat…

Guided meditations might help you, if you’re not using them already.

Reply

Hello,
Whenever I meditate with earplugs I found complete silence. And I focus on my breath while this a beep sound comes in my mind also sometimes I feel my heartbeat. Should I gradually move to this sound or should concentrate only breathe. Please clear me I m confused?

Reply

I’d suggest just continuing to follow your breathing, Deepak. The meditation doesn’t have to feel like it’s a competition to see if you can notice the breathing and only the breathing. If that’s your mindset, then you’ll always feel like you’re losing. You can hear sounds and feel your heartbeat and also pay attention to your breathing. You can notice your heartbeat and your breathing side-by side. As they say in the US, it’s like walking and chewing gum :) If you hear a sound in your mind you can notice it when it’s there, notice any emotional response to it, and then let go of it, returning to your breathing again.

Reply

So I keep hearing about mindfulness where ones needs to pay attention to everything. But I am a bit confused and hoping someone can explain it to me in details. Am I supposed to be mindful of everything all at the same time?! For example, every time I talk, I automatically remember to be careful about what words I should use. But how can one be mindful of everything all at the same time? If I am reading a book and fully concentrated, such that I can’t hear the background noises, or won’t notice the muscle tension in my back, etc., is that considered not being fully mindful? Or am I supposed to pay attention to those sounds as well? If so, it seems kind of impossible to do so.
It is getting a bit confusing for me.

Reply

Hi, Sam.

No, it’s not necessary, and usually not possible or desirable, to pay attention to everything at once. Right now I’m typing a message to you, and so I’m not paying attention to the sounds coming from outside the house. I can pause and listen to the sound of a passing airplane, but then I have to stop typing. So what’s my purpose — listening or typing? Right now I want to type. But if I want to type, then I need to check my posture from time to time to make sure it’s going to support my purpose. If my posture had been trained to be perfect, then I wouldn’t need to do this. But it’s not perfect, so I pause for a second and check in which my body. I notice I’m slumping a little; I straighten up. What’s my purpose? Typing. Why am I paying attention to my posture, then? Because I want to type.

Another example. You mentioned being aware of the words you’re using. But you’ll also want to be aware of the person you’re talking to, because you want to know what effect they’re having. Is the other person understanding you? What’s their emotional response to what you’re saying. To know that you have to pay attention to them, and also to yourself — you’ll sense whether the other person is at ease by sensing whether you are at ease, for example. And you need to be aware of what your response is to what they say to you. Again, you need to notice your feelings, what your thoughts are, etc. You probably don’t want to be paying attention to a passing airplane, to the sound of a ticking clock, or to another conversation that’s going on elsewhere. Those are distractions to your purpose, which is being in communication with the other person.

So what you do is dependent on what your overall purpose is. We don’t practice mindfulness for the sake of practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness isn’t an end in itself. It’s a tool. There are a few times you want to be open to everything that’s arising — for example in meditation — but that’s quite rare, and done as a form of training. Generally, you need to bear in mind what you’re actually doing (this is called sampajañña) and then pay attention to a set of experiences connected with that task (this is called sati).

Sometimes you’ll need to shift your purpose. I’m not suggesting being dogmatic. Having the attitude “I’m not going to pay attention to what my colleague is saying because I’m typing” isn’t helpful. There are higher-order purposes.

This need for higher order purposes is implicit in the eightfold path, in which mindfulness is just one part of that path. Mindfulness stripped of that context is still a useful tool, but it can also be confusing, as you’ve found.

Reply

Thank you so much for taking the time to type all of this. The reason I got confused to begin with is because I was reading a book about mindfulness and it was explaining how you should pay attention to everything at present time. For example be aware of your breathing. I probably misunderstood and over analyzed that I have to notice my breath all the time and everything else around me. To be sure I fully understood this , let me rephrase something.

So Basically one should pay attention to the primary task. For example, If I am driving, I should pay attention to the driving and stop fantasizing about what I may do later in the day or what I did 3 days ago and so forth, because fantasizing is not the primary purpose of driving. Correct?

Further, if I am sitting behind my desk and reading a very interesting article which makes me completely focus and not be aware of the background noise, or feel the itching sensation in my leg, or even not notice the chronic lower back pain, it is an acceptable form of mindfulness?

Reply

Hi, Sam. I think your first example is spot on. If you’re driving mindfully, just drive. You might even want to have the radio off.

If you’re reading an article and the way you’re sitting is causing you back pain, however, then that’s probably not very helpful in the long term. You want to be able to pay attention to anything significant that arises, like in the example when I said you might be typing and someone speaks to you. Bodily discomfort would be similar — it’s significant and needs attention, meaning that it would be wise to change your posture, or get up and move around. But if you just meant that you have back pain anyway (and that’s probably what you meant by it being chronic), then sure, you might just tune it out and keep on being absorbed in your reading.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *