There is often so much consternation about breathing while you meditate, with a lot of people worrying about whether or not they are breathing correctly, that I thought I'd better post more about it.
If you are breathing naturally for you, then you've got it right.
It's simple. It's exactly what you do all day and all night every day, and have been doing for years. The less you think about how and the more you simply count each breath, the easier this will be for you. You are simply OBSERVING your breath, not controlling or changing or doing anything with it. And as you inhale each breath, you count: one... two... three... four... five... six... seven... eight... nine... ten... one... two... three... four... five... six... seven... eight... nine... ten... one... and on for ten minutes.
It is your natural breath we want here, not some imaginary perfect breath. The natural breath comes in different lengths, different depths, and different speeds, depending entirely on what your body needs at that given moment. Sometimes you gasp or pant or sigh, but mostly you just breathe.
Counting is also easy. It does not need music—neither melody nor rhythm. Nor does it need a fancy font. In fact, all it needs is one simple thought for each number: one... two... three... four... five... six... seven... eight... nine... ten... one...
Imagine please, right now but not during meditation, that you are watching rain fall on a window. You are comfortable and dry inside the building. Outside rain is falling all by itself and you do not control it in any way. You also do not really know exactly what the temperature is or much of anything else, but you can clearly see each drop fall, slide down the glass, and disappear at the bottom of the glass. Count them. That's all.
This is like the process of meditation—observe the breath going in, pausing, going out, pausing, going in. Count them. Do nothing to the breath. Do nothing to the numbers. I know that creative minds like to play with everything, and I am as bad as any of you. But—trust me on this—if you give your creative mind just this little peaceful rest, it will be even more wonderfully creative at other times.
During this process everything else is a distraction to be gently dismissed whether it is heavenly choirs, skylarks singing, fluffy pink clouds, the dog barking outside, your spirit buddies, or your inner devils. (If your spirit friends really want to help, they will leave you totally alone to get on with the meditation during your precious ten minutes.) One little tip: turn off the phone before you begin.
Meditation can help us in healing ourselves—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Sometimes, when we are meditating, emotions and thoughts will come into awareness related to distressing events, either from the past or from current and on-going situations in our lives. Sometimes these feeling or thoughts can be easily released, but other times they may be very powerful—and distracting. Our usual activities and keeping busy may keep us unaware of what distressing power can be lurking with, but when we sit quietly, without distraction, these things bubble up into conscious awareness. It happens to most of us sooner or later. Other things that bubble up are inspirations and healing insights, so it is not all difficult things.
While this is something that many people will experience sooner or later to some degree, it is generally not overwhelming. A passing feeling of sorrow or distress, a flitting memory, a sudden insight into something we've been thinking about—these are the usual things that come up, and they come up almost daily from the beginning. However, some times old stuff comes up quite powerfully. We need to be prepared for this—both to help ourselves now and to help others later on. I always hope that really disruptive things will not come up for people until they have learned to get really good at the basic breath meditation, but sometimes they is very close to the surface and demand to be attended to from the beginning. To me, this usually means that the trauma is ready to release and heal. It also usually means that consciously or unconsciously, you have already been doing things that have helped you to get ready—you're on the right track.
The best thing to try is to let the emotions/feelings/images be whatever they are. Notice them, identify them, but don't get involved in thinking about them. Keep your attention on the breath and counting. This is not easy and you won't be perfect at it, but do the best you can. If there are tears allow them to fall. If there is anger, let it be there. Whatever it is, don't try to fix or suppress it. Just keep watching your breath. The breath will be changing—don't fight that. Let it be itself. If you don't engage with it, the energy behind it will gradually be released and fall away, and slowly the breathing will return to normal.
With old and deep traumas this can happen more than once, and you need to do the same thing again. By going through (instead of becoming bogged down in) these long-repressed feelings and by simply continuing with the breathing and counting, you are allowing the tensions express themselves without reinforcing them by justification or giving them control. A burden you've been carrying is gone, or at least partly gone. After years of carrying it around with all the associated underlying tension and trauma affecting you strongly, it is actually finding a way to let go.
If you lose the support of the meditation during this by focusing on the misery, there might still be some release, but equally it might well have reinforced it. This is why I'm so adamant about focusing on the breath and not getting wrapped up in our thoughts, feelings, and vision that we lose the concentration on the breath. This is one way in which the mental and emotional strength we build by practicing awareness on breath and counting is very valuable to us. Not only will it help us deal with old trauma, but it will also help us deal with current distress. We learn to accept the distress, breathe into it, and release it with the breath. Then, we don't build up additional layers over the top of it and repress it even more deeper.
However, by not getting caught up in it and by allowing some of the repressed energy to simply release without reinforcing anything, when it goes, it's gone. There may be—and likely is -- still some of it left. It may well come up again in meditation or at other times. If it does, the most helpful thing you can do is to stay with the breath—breathing in fresh air, fresh energy, and exhaling the old and consciously allowing the tension go out with the breath as much as it wants to. This is not about trying to force the tension to go—it is just freely letting it go in the sobs or other manifestations of distress while you detach your mind from either fighting it, pushing it away, justifying it, or suppressing it.
Forcing is not helpful—it usually just increases resistance, making it stronger. This is about the therapist being gentle with the traumatized one. Attempts at forcing anything just increase the trauma, which, after all, was caused by being forced. And in this case, you are both healer/therapist and the wounded one. Let the body do what it needs to do; let the feelings do what they need to do; let them release. But let the mind stand as clear as it can, focusing on the breath, focusing on the count. In and out. Observing.
When we get into more advanced work, we'll look more at how these energies come to be crystalized in the body and the things we can do as counsellors and healers to help to gently facilitate their release, but for now working with our own stuff, let's just try the simple tool of basic breathing meditation. It can work wonders. Of course, it is a good idea, if you can, to have a skilled person to help you with the major releases. But, if you are on your own the first time something comes up, try this wonderful first aid tool. You'll be surprised by how much it can help.
Love and blessings to anyone dealing with these things, either past or current. Many of the things we'll be learning are about release and healing. When we do psychic readings or healing, either one, old stuff often comes up. The psychic reader or spiritual counselor needs to be just as capable of working with this in a healing manner as anyone called a healer or therapist does.
May we find healing and wisdom together.
Different meditation techniques have different effects. The basic breathing meditation described in the first lesson is quite different in its intention from Transcendental Meditation, chanting, mindfulness (which we'll talk about later on), Zen, or any other technique I know of, including something so similar sounding as counting to control the breath instead of just counting the breaths themselves. Other meditations are not a substitute for it, nor is it a substitute for them, just as doing sit-ups is not a substitute for yoga and yoga is not a substitute for t'ai chi—they all work differently in the body and subtle energy. If you are already using another form of meditating, I still ask that you do this basic breathing exercise for ten minutes a day. It's perfectly all right to do your regular meditation as well, but it does not fulfil the same purpose.
There are several reason for choosing this as the introductory meditation for this course.
Using the natural breath as a focus helps the body to learn deep relaxation without arousing the resistance that may come when we tell our bodies what to do. We are used to carrying mental tensions in our thoughts, which show up in our bodies as physical tension. When we "bore" ourselves by focusing the mind only on the breath, the mental tension caused by our thoughts relaxes and so does the physical tension in our bodies. "Boredom" as in "nothing exciting or dangerous is happening" can be a friend.
There are meditations which focus on controlling the breath in very specific ways, and they are useful for specific purposes They change the breath from its natural rhythm to a controlled, artificial rhythm, which has certain physiological, emotional, and mental effects. If you know what you're doing with that, it can be useful. However, what we are trying to do here is something else altogether, allowing the breath to relax and flow in the way that is best for your body at this moment. When we let go of control, we relax. It's about being rather than doing. And we're interested here in just being—in pure presence, in developing a dispassionate, clear observer mind that sees things as they really are.
Humans are enthralled by doing things, making things, labeling things, controlling things. But sometimes surrender is the thing we most need. It is the yin of being that balances our yang of doing. Without it, we are forever out of balance in body, mind, and emotion. Of course, there is no way to make ourselves surrender into that inner peace. But we can, slowly and patiently, let it come to us. And in that place of surrender, of being, we are totally receptive. Balance and healing can happen to mind, body, and spirit.
So, it turns out that this very simple, very basic breath meditation has quite complex and profound effects because of its simplicity. I thought for a long time that I'd outgrown it and went on to more complicated meditations, each doing its own useful thing and forgetting about this one. But when I'd try to go back to this basic breath, I'd find that I'd lost something that only this could bring me. I suspect I never will outgrow the need for the strength it brings.
© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.