Wait for the Breath

Stephen Batchelor in Living with the Devil, Chapter 14 ("This Body Is Breathing") muses upon the human animal and describes ways to remain immersed in the actuality of life. He suggests:

... Having found a stable posture in which the back is upright, bring the totality of attention to the physical sensation of the breath as it enters the nostrils, fills the lungs, pauses, contracts the lungs, is exhaled, pauses, and so on. Do not control the breath; just rest with calm curiosity in an awareness of the body breathing. If the breath is short and shallow, then notice it to be short and shallow. If it is long and deep, notice it to be long and deep. There is no right or wrong way to breathe.

... The trick is to learn how to remain fully aware of the breath without that awareness impeding its natural ebb and flow.

One way to do this is to wait for the breath to happen. After each inhalation and exhalation, there follows a brief pause as the muscles change gear, as it were, before releasing the pent-up air or drawing a fresh breath. The self-consciousness of breathing is most pronounced at these two moments: suddenly it feels as though "I" must exhale or inhale. To dispel this sense of agency, during each pause remain a disinterested observer, curious to notice when and how the muscles will engage of their own accord to initiate the next inbreath or outbreath. Just wait for the next phase in the breathing to kick in: with no expectation as to when it should start, no preparation for it to be deep or shallow, no anticipation for it to be forceful or gentle.

Batchelor goes on to suggest using the breath as "... the anchor to which one returns each time the mind is snatched away by daydreams or memories ..." and "as a barometer of one's mood." He proposes that:

... The stillness of mindfulness is not one of trancelike absorption, where attention remains locked on a single object, but an expansive restfulness in which a radiant and supple clarity attends to whatever appears.

And whatever appears, disappears. The closer one attends to the unfolding of life, from thoughts that flit through one's brain to the serene blue canopy of a cloudless sky, the more the inconstancy of things becomes apparent. ...

He concludes, "As one settles into a contemplative acceptance of the selfless flux of experience, one discovers that, just like the breath, it too happens of its own accord. Even the observing awareness is a momentary consequence of sense data impacting the organs of a complex nervous system capable of representing those data as 'things-observed-by-me.'"

^z - 2013-07-09