Understanding the Breath


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Andy Darling's picture

Thank you, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, especially for the downloadable guided meditation.

Richard Fidler's picture

The speaker on my computer is turned up as loud as it can go yet the voice is quite weak. I must strain to hear--not a good thing to do if you are trying to relax. Is there any way to get more audio?

teecomb's picture

Headphones will make it easier to hear.

Glen Hamilton's picture

Thank you Tan Ajahn for mentioning this retreat....will be attentive..^_^..

shin's picture

Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu,
I first heard similar instructions from mp3 files you so generously sent me some years ago
when I asked for copies of a few books. I can't overstate how helpful these instructions have
been for me personally and for others I have shared them with. What could be more effective
in softening the hard edges of that constricted, isolated me-sense, and gradually allow the body
and mind to settle into this peaceful presence that is always available to us. with metta

sschroll's picture

Where, how do I access the audio?

Thank you.

singularity12's picture

The audio guided meditation is on the right side of this comment page under the heading "Supplementary Materials".

Andrew Gladstone's picture

From Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

To everyone who has sent a message of thanks:

I appreciate your comments. As Ajaan Fuang once said, the best way to show gratitude for a teaching is to be sincere in putting it into practice. I look forward to hearing reports of what happens when you give these teachings a sincere try. :)

Jim Spencer's picture

I've been putting your teachings into practice since the last Tricycle retreat that you gave, after doing formal Rinzai Zen training for nearly a decade. My ability to return to my breath during seated meditation has grown by leaps and bounds. I've used the breathing techniques that you teach to lessen pain while sitting, to develop abundant joy while sitting and to develop a strong sense of samvega. Because of a suggestion in one of your books, I am following the calendar of uposatha days and working with the multitude of issues that bring themselves forward as a result. But above all, I am grateful for your accessibility.

singularity12's picture

Thank you for the video and audio guided meditation, Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Your Dhamma transmission is greatly appreciated, as always.

Barbra's picture

Gratitude and bows to this beloved teacher Thanissaro Bhikkhu who has given so much to the community. I listen to your talks everyday on www.dhammatalks.org and read your many translations made possible by your generosity. Your talks have assisted me through life's river of suffering and also brought me great joy. My life flows with the path thanks to your committed teaching. I cannot extend enough thanks to you. Thank you for this teaching as well.

mysliwij's picture

Thank you for this discussion Thanissaro Bhikkhu. I've been working with the breath for a year now. My teacher, in the Kapleau lineage Zen tradition, stresses the importance of me simply observing the breath; letting the "universe breathe me". I will continue to do as he instructs because I trust, respect, and admire him very much. Slow goings! I have an active mind! I'm doing well with letting go of expectations and not attaching to results. I have, prior to becoming his student, manipulated the breath and found it easier to stay with. I'm just curious as to the positives and negatives of either technique: pure observation vs. manipulation. What either will help with or for what type of disposition either is more suited? Thank you.

Andrew Gladstone's picture

Hi mysliwij

From Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

Holding in mind the perception of "letting the universe breathe me" is an indirect way of manipulating the breath. You can sweep this perception through the various parts of the body to relax any tension that's blocking the flow of the breath energy (remember what I said on the video: it's a matter of "allowing"). Then you can also hold it in mind when you settle the mind in one spot and spread your awareness through the entire body.

I've found this perception useful for dealing with two circumstances that come up in the meditation: (1) When efforts to adjust the breath simply make things worse, you can step back and simply assume the role of the observer (another perception, which as I noted in the video, is a form of mental fabrication). That allows things to settle down, and can help get you out of a controlling mind set. (2) When you've established a centered, full-body awareness and the breath feels good, you can drop all thoughts of adjusting the breath. This allows you to go into a deeper state of concentration, stillness, and oneness where you no longer take on the responsibility of looking after the breath. It looks after itself.

As for limiting yourself to the technique of just being the observer, I personally find it an unnecessary limitation. As my teacher once said, you're going to be manipulating your breath willy-nilly, consciously or unconsciously, until you reach the first stage of awakening. So you might as well do it consciously so as not to be hiding the fact from yourself. But you might want to talk this matter over with your teacher to learn his reasons for holding you to it.

mysliwij's picture

I never really get the mind to "settle down", it seems. There may be periods of observing the breath that endure for a relative "long stretch". I don't know how long, I'm not timing. Maybe 30 seconds to a min. or two... But thoughts always seem to bubble up. Very random, daydream type thoughts. No pressing anxieties or life's troubles. I don't really have any that come to mind. I'm sitting for an hour in the morning and an hour at night. I've been sitting this schedule for 3 months now, not observing an increase of "settling". But then again, it's difficult for one to observe one's self over time, isn't it? Like seeing someone you haven't seen in a long time and they comment "boy have you lost weight!" You don't look any different than you did yesterday in the mirror! Subtle changes, compounded over time can add up without one being aware of them. I am focusing on the hara and observing random thoughts come and go. If I observe them, I can let them go and return to the gut-breath. If I don't notice their arrival, they take me on a daydream. I still enjoy my practice very much and have noted that I am less perturbed, calmer, happier in general. I feel a bit more a part of things and less involved in my "ego-movie". I've just accepted the fact that I have a very active, imaginative mind and it's going to take quite a while to settle it. I don't get to speak with my teacher but 2-3 times a year at sesshins. So I appreciate these retreats and the guidance they foster.

Andrew Gladstone's picture

Hi mysliwij

From Thanissaro Bhikkhu

It’s true that settling down can be a gradual, almost imperceptible process, but there are ways to speed it up. If your teacher won’t let you adjust the breath, you can focus instead simply on relaxing the body in a systematic way. Start with the tips of the fingers. If you notice any tension in your fingers, allow it to relax and to stay relaxed through a couple of in-and-out breaths. Then move to the palms of your hands and repeat the process. Keeping moving up the arms, repeating the process, section by section, until you’ve done the shoulders.
Then start at the toes and repeat the process, working up through the feet, the legs, the hips, the vertebrae of your spine, the neck, the head.
Some people find that it helps to visualize the bones in the spot that you’re trying to relax. Remind yourself that if there’s tension, it’s not in the bones. It’s in the muscles and connective tissues that surround the bones. Think of letting all that connective material be as tension-free as the bones.
Using this technique helps to soften up the body and soften up the mind—i.e., making it more sensitive to the body in the present moment. This makes it easier for them to interpenetrate. Instead of trying to force a hardened mind to settled down with a solid lump of a body, you’re letting two free-flowing energy fields come into alignment, strengthening and healing each other. That makes it easier for you to stay in the present and not be pulled away by any thoughts that come straying into your awareness.
One more point: When you’re focused on the body, one of the best ways of avoiding distraction is—instead of trying to clamp down on stray thoughts—simply let them be stray, coming and going as they like, while you’re duty is not to pay them any attention at all. They’re like the stray cats and dogs in your neighborhood. You don’t have to be responsible for their comings and goings.

Alison9's picture

Can I access the audio using an iPhone? Doesn't seem to work.

Andrew Gladstone's picture

Hi Alison

We are working on making it available to download from our server, but for now it can only be played off the site. Apologies for the inconvenience. Thanks!

- Andrew G

northpole's picture

Very good. Use the guided audio file.

mlemon's picture

I think his pace is just fine, but I also think listening to it ten more times might be helpful. I hope you don't give up so soon. Thanissaro Bhikkhu has been a wonderful source of help and inspirations for me.

I believe that there's a lot more to 'mindfulness' than just keeping something in mind.

sschroll's picture

I wish Thanissaro Bhikkhu didn't need to talk so fast!!!!! He started ok for 3 or 4 seconds and then started speeding up. No way I can stay calm. I start tightening up as I try to keep up with his pace. Is this really mindfulness?? If I really want to hear and understand what he has to stay, I might have to listen to it at least 10 or more times. At 4 minutes and 12 seconds I was completely out and out of breath.

4 talks X 10 times = 40 times at least.

I'll probably give up if he keeps this pace.

Thank you.

astarte11's picture

I also would request Ven. Thanissaro to speak slowly. English is not my mother language and is quite difficult to follow the speech when the pace is so fast. I guess there might be other people in the same situation - not having English as first language - who will appreciate some room and silence between words and sentences.
Anywayt, thanks a lot for the teachings.

Alex Caring-Lobel's picture

Hi sschroll,

There's a transcript of the talk now available for download in the Supplementary Materials section to the right. These usually aren't available right when the talk comes out, but are always up by later in the week.

Best wishes,

Bagdad's picture

Right here you're doing strong work to be mindful of your reactions to your feelings that arise as you listen to Thanissaro. Perhaps for you a lot of the work will come in just listening to this section over and over - and noticing what arises, the feelings of pleasant/unpleasant/neutral, the body reactions that you experience, noticing your breath as you listen...and playing with this, exploring, being curious about what is arising for you.
And working with this over time, with patience, with non-judging, you may find wisdom and insight into areas of your experience that will then provide openings for you in other arenas of your life.
Very powerful work you're doing - may you find ease in your listening to this retreat.

Haven's picture

I sure hope you don't give up, he has an awful lot of wisdom to offer. I listen to his talks almost everyday so I guess I'm just used to his style of speaking and actually find it refreshing, compared to the super slow speaking style of many teachers, which seems forced to me.

Maybe try the 40 minute guided meditation which you can download just to the right.

Mindfulness simply means to keep something in mind.

donnamarya's picture

Makes total sense. thank you.