There are many forms of meditation practice, each with its own appeal and promise. Here’s one that seems so simple on the face of it, and yet it has been the gateway to a deep understanding and ease for thousands and thousands of people over time. The instructions go like this:
Just breathe. Let your always busy mind open itself to whatever sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts, are passing through. In other words, be aware. Continue breathing. Continue being aware. Repeat.
The simplicity of this breath+awareness practice is deceptive. Some will say, “this practice can’t be very deep if that is all there is to it.” Others, discovering the merry-go-round of sensations, feelings, etc., will try to latch on to one aspect or another. They will say to themselves, “I must only sense things, I must not think. Arrggh! I’m thinking! I’m a failure.” But there’s no need to stop thinking. And thinking is not failure. It’s just the thought-of-the-moment revealing itself.
Today I came across a short article by Jill Satterfield (Tricycle, 2011, Meditation in Motion: How to Be Present in Your Body). Satterfield describes this practice as “being present by being in our body, wherever it is and whatever it is doing. When we are exactly where our body is, we are in the present moment.” She goes on to say that this practice is available wherever we find ourselves, sitting at our computer, walking across the Quad, standing in line at Commons. As Satterfield puts it, “Our mind training doesn’t have to stop when we are not in a seated meditation posture, because most of the time we are in some sort of posture without actually naming it as such. … So how are we occupying the posture we are in? By simply locating our breath at any given moment.”
Locating our breath? It’s always in my nose, or my mouth and throat, or my chest, or all of the above, right? What is there to “locate”? Satterfield’s reply is to ask us to consider our “breath” as something that might happen anywhere in our body. She writes, “I like to think of breath and consciousness as travel partners. For instance, when we are asked to breathe into an area of the body, what are we actually doing? Certainly we aren’t literally breathing into our hands, for example, but we are beckoning our consciousness into our hands, or wherever we might choose to bring it. … What we notice when we metaphorically breathe into an area of our body is that we feel something. That something may be difficult to describe, as many esoteric things are, but it is an undeniable experience.”
So, to return to the meditation instructions at the top. Just breathe. Let your always busy mind open itself. Moment after moment, repeat. Should you find yourself fixating on a particular thing – an itch, a memory, a plan for later – realize that in that moment of noticing, you have changed what seemed like a fixation into an experience. Excellent. Continue breathing. Continue experiencing.
I wish you well.
PS Did you know that if you click on “breath” in the word cloud on the right side of this page, you can find several other posts and references on “breath”?