Week 1: Breath

Day 1 ~ Sunday, October 26, 2014  ~  Mindfulness of Breathing

Please follow the links below.  Brief additional teachings will be e-mailed to you and also added here each day.
  1. Listen to: Gil Fronsdal's Introduction to Meditation (Part 1) 
  2. Reference:  This page describes various  Postures for Meditation
  3. Read:
  4. Practice Instructions for the First Week
  5. Practice Support  (For those assigned a teacher, for self-reflection for those auditing)

Day 2 ~  Momentum
We are often carried away from our intention to meditate by the momentum of our busy lives.  Perhaps the most important moments of beginning a meditation practice are those few seconds when you remember your intention to stop and do actually sit down.  How long you stay seated is not as important as the fact that you stopped, switched gears from the endless cycles of planning and worrying, and began to meet some of your present-moment sensations and feelings with simple awareness, even if only for a few minutes.  Notice how it feels to slow down, stop and become aware of the simple physical sensations of breathing.

As the daily habit of stopping gets established, a new kind of momentum, one of interest and relaxation, may lead you to naturally want to sit longer.

With dripping drops of water, even a water jug is filled."   ~     Dhammapada 121-122

Day 3  

Mindfulness meditation involves three aspects:  knowing the mind, training the mind, and freeing the mind.   When you first sit down, you want to learn what’s there.  Don’t try to force the mind to be quiet right away.  Allow yourself to be curious, to explore how you are.  If it’s chaotic or unpleasant, there's no need to judge it.   Gradually, bringing the mind back to the present, over and over again, our mindfulness muscle grows, and our mind begins to be trained.  Training the mind brings calm, alertness and a sense of spaciousness.  A trained mind sees clearly, and has much more choice of how to respond, it’s much freer and less reactive.

            "Every moment is worthy of our attention."

Day 4  Reconnecting With Your Center

Through the practice of resting our attention on the sensations of breathing, we are learning to reclaim our scattered energy and reconnect with a feeling of being centered.  We are establishing a safe and empowering home for our attention in meditation and in daily life:  a supportive place we can always go to, to calm and balance the often fragmented feelings of mind and body.   As you become interested in what it feels like from the inside to breathe in and out, you can gradually develop some continuity of attention on the breath.  

See if you can pay attention to the entire breathing process, just one half-breath at a time.  No need to try to breathe any special way, just trust that the body knows how to breathe and observe what it feels like.

  • Notice the very beginning of the in-breath.  Remind yourself to stay with the various sensations for the entire length of the in-breath.
  • Notice any gap before the out-breath.  Now remind yourself to stay with feelings of the entire out breath.
  • Notice the beginning of the out-breath.  Stay with it for the entire length of it, allowing the body to relax fully as it ends.
  • Notice any pause before the in-breath.  If there is a pause, just relax and let the attention rest in the area where you experience the breath.  Remind yourself to be present for the beginning of the next in-breath.

Don't worry if the mind wanders, it's natural.  When you wake up and remember, just notice what called your attention away and gently return the attention to the movement of breath in the center of the body.

For some people, to help settle the mind and develop concentration, counting breaths can be very helpful. It serves as feedback to let you know that your mind has drifted.  For instructions and techniques for counting breaths, see Counting Breaths in the Reference section.

"If you don't fail at least 90 percent of the time, you're not aiming high enough."  ~  Alan Kay

Day 5  ~  Meditation Breaks

Consider taking a couple of  5 minute “meditation breaks” during the day.  Maybe sitting at your desk, sitting in the car before getting out, sitting quietly before eating a meal.  This is a very effective training of your concentration:  with a commitment to meditate for just 5 minutes, it's possible to be really present for more of your breaths.
  • Close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths and let your body relax. 
  • Put aside all concerns. 
  • Pay attention to the breath, noticing every inhale and exhale. Remain alert and relaxed.

 "I like the image of the mind as a mirror. The mirror has the capacity to reflect precisely
 whatever comes before it without any discrimination."    
   ~ Joseph Goldstein

Day 6  ~  Washing Dishes

By now, you may have chosen one routine physical activity to be mindful of each day, if not, please do so.  When you perform this activity, pay attention to your posture.  Is your abdomen relaxed?  Your shoulders? Your face? Are you slouching or erect?  Encourage the mind to stay present, to not race ahead as to what is next, to not fret about the past.

At first it's helpful to choose simple activities that you might do alone, such as brushing your teeth, getting up from a chair, washing dishes...  Eventually, as our ability to be mindful increases, we can include activities that are more challenging to stay mindful in, such as working at the computer or having a conversation.

"While washing dishes, wash each piece relaxingly, as though each bowl is an object of contemplation. Consider each plate as sacred.  Follow your breath to prevent your mind from straying. Do not try to hurry to get the job over with. Consider washing the dishes the most important thing in life.  Washing the dishes is meditation. If you cannot wash the dishes in mindfulness, neither can you meditate while sitting in silence."              
                                                                                                                      ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

More than a thousand years ago a Chinese Zen-master wrote:

Magical power,
    marvelous action!
Chopping wood,
    carrying water...

Day 7  ~  Radical Acceptance

In Mindfulness practice we are practicing a Radical Acceptance of the present moment, no matter what we find there.

If our child is ill, we would want to respond to the situation as skillfully as we are able to.  If we use our energy bemoaning that it shouldn’t be this way, that our child should not be sick -- how could this happen, etc... , the result is a conflicted mind, which is less capable of attending to our child.  Our attention is entangled in our own conflict, instead of being fully available to our child. If we can fully accept the moment, the truth of the situation, that our child is ill, and not be in conflict with it, we can be free to attend to our child with a more peaceful mind.  We will do everything we can to help our child heal, but we will be doing it much better if our attention is on what is needed in the present, rather than resisting the fact that the situation exists.

This applies to any situation we don’t like.  Getting a flat tire.  It makes no difference to the situation if we’re happy or upset. The flat tire is still there and we have to deal with it.  It’s a lot easier to deal with a flat tire when we’re happy. 

The practice of mindfulness trains us to learn to accept the moment, no matter what it brings, even if we don’t like it.  When we accept the moment, we can respond to it more skillfully.  If we sit down to meditate and find the mind is agitated, can we accept that agitation is present?  Can we say “Ahh!  That’s what agitation is like!”  Be curious about it, be interested in it, be non-judgmental. 

Optional Reading:  Chapter 4 from Gil Fronsdal's book Issue at Hand How Mindfulness Works When It Doesn't Work