Exercises on Mindful Breathing

The monastic community is practicing during the Rainy Season Retreat from January 4 to March 14 at Deer Park Monastery with the lay community. This 83-minute dharma talk in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall takes place on Sunday, January 18, 2004 at the beginning of the third week. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

It takes about 5-minutes to work through some technical difficulties before the dharma talk begins. During that time Thay reflects on a few small things like the freshness of the air in Deer Park and the upcoming Year of the Monkey. The monkey is in the mind. Our practice is not to force the monkey to stop, but to become aware of the movement of the mind. We don’t try to suppress our mind. 

Last time we spoke about how to become fully present and fully alive. The practice is so easy that it would be a pity if you don’t do it. The power and energy of mindfulness is available because we all have the seed of mindfulness in our consciousness. If we keep the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight then we are good continuations of the Buddha. But we also live in forgetfulness and we can transform this with the flower of mindfulness. Garbage and flowers. We are like organic gardeners that can produce the flowers of peace and happiness. Our happiness arises from elements of affliction and we don’t need to be afraid of the garbage. We don’t need to run away from our pain and sorrow. 

Mindful Breathing Exercises

The Buddha offered very simple and effective methods of practice. We can master these methods and we can no longer be afraid of sickness, fear, despair, or even death. In the Sutra on Mindful Breathing, the first exercise is simply breathing in and out. Simple identification and awareness. Thay offers several methods on how to follow our in breath and out breath. When mindfulness is there, then concentration is there too. Concentration is born from mindfulness. This first exercise proposed by the Buddha is so easy and so simple. It is for our enjoyment. It is a gift. And when we practice mindfulness, we are a Buddha. 

The second exercise is long and short. Following our breath all the way through. Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. But the practice is not to try and make the breath longer or shorter. Don’t try to force your breath. Your breath is what it is. Simple, mere recognition. Just turn on the light of mindfulness and become aware of it. It is like the sunshine and the flower. Mindfulness is the sunshine and the energy will recognize and embrace the flower, our breath. The photons of the sunshine penetrate right into the flower and it opens. Our in-breath and out-breath are like a flower. In our practice of meditation, there are three elements: body, mind, and breath. They are interconnected with each other. These can become one, and all of them inherit from the energy of mindfulness and concentration brought about by mindful breathing. The second exercise suggests we enjoy our in-breath and out-breath all the way through from the beginning to the end. To follow your breath. 

The third exercise is awareness of the whole body. Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I am aware of my body. This is a practice of going home to your body and being present. We can reconcile with our body. Awareness is already enlightenment. We receive a short teaching on “formations.” The formation of our physical body. We are fully aware that our body fully is. To recognize our body as a formation. This practice can help to heal our body. Awareness and practicing with a smile. It’s yoga of the mouth. How do we practice this even if our mind and body are not aligned? We can smile to release all the tensions and relax the body. If you are a doctor or a therapist, you may want to explore more with the Sutra on Mindful Breathing. 

Thay offers very specific methods to practice mediation using these exercises. Everyone can succeed with these exercises.

Awareness of feelings is the fifth exercise. Breathing in, I feel joy. I am aware of the feeling called joy. Breathing out, I feel joy. This too is a formation, but they are a mental formation. The sixth is similar but we are calling forth our feeling of happiness. Joy and happiness are there for our nourishment and healing. We start with these seeds of joy and happiness before moving to those feelings that cause us to suffer. But these exercises are not simply auto-suggestion, but happiness and joy can be born if we know how to touch the seed. The first way to bring joy is to leave behind; to let go. Maybe something we believe to be crucial to our happiness. 

If you appreciate this teaching, please consider making a donation to support the ongoing efforts of the online monastery. Please make a note with your donation that it was because of this talk.

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Surrender Yourself to the Present Moment

The monastic community is practicing during the Rainy Season Retreat from January 4 to March 14 at Deer Park Monastery with the lay community. This 55-minute dharma talk in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall takes place on Wednesday, January 14, 2004 during the second week. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

We begin with a reminder of the gatha we learned in the prior dharma talk. The gatha can be used when we are practicing sitting mediation, standing, walking, and lying down – the four positions of the body. We can listen to the music of our breathing in and breathing out. 

The Practice of Stopping

This is practice of stopping. This does just mean stopping the mind, but it also applies to our body. Because our body also has a habit of running; a feeling of restlessness in the body. And the body contains the mind along with the mind containing the body. Helping the body to stop is also helping the mind to stop. And this is why meditation includes the body. The Buddhist term for stopping is samatha.  We also need some insight, vipasyana, in order to truly stop. These are like two wings of a bird.

The first insight is to stop running. Being in a retreat environment is a good opportunity to learn how to stop. With our practice of walking, each step is a healer. We can totally surrender ourself to the present moment. To the power of healing that is inherent in our body. In the Plum Village tradition, we offer the practice of total and deep relaxation. We use the techniques of mindful breathing to allow our body to rest. We embrace our body with tenderness. This is a practice of love. Darling, I am home. Thay takes us through some parts of meditation on the body. We also learn some of the exercises found in the Sutra on Contemplation of the Body in the Body. This practice can be very pleasant and healing. 

Stopping means to be fully present. In the here and the now. And when you are fully present in the here and now, then you are present to being fully alive. And vipasyana is what helps us to see this. Another function of samatha is to recognize: to recognize what is happening in the present moment. When we are able to recognize, then the “blue sky” is always there. We come to Deer Park so that we can learn to practice stopping. 

If you appreciate this teaching, please consider making a donation to support the ongoing efforts of the online monastery. Please make a note with your donation that it was because of this talk.

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