WEEK ONE: The Breath
For the first week, our main focus is the breath. Awareness of the breath is the fundamental technique of insight meditation. By focusing our attention on our inhalations and exhalations we calm the mind and create the conditions for insight to arise. Twice a day this week we will meditate for twenty minutes, focusing on our breath. The following guided meditation will introduce you to this most basic and important practice.
Guided Meditation: Breathe Easy
In breath meditation, the mind can be relaxed and spacious; we don’t have to fabricate anything. Take a few deep, easy breaths and release them. Allow the breath to become natural so you’re not trying to force or control it in any way. Notice the place where you feel the breath most distinctly. It may be the in-and-out movements of the air at the nostrils. You may feel tingling or vibration, or changes in temperature. You may feel the breath most distinctly with the rising and falling of the chest or the abdomen: Stretching . . . pressure . . . tension . . . release. Wherever you feel it most natural, most easy, allow your mind to rest in that place and feel the breath. As you feel the breath, you can make a silent mental note to sharpen the concentration: “in” as you feel the breath go in; “out” as you feel it leave your body. Or “rising, falling” with the sensation in your chest or belly. Very gently, very quietly in your mind, just support the awareness of the actual sensations. You don’t need to make the breath special. It doesn’t have to be long or different from however it is, however it changes. It’s happening anyway, so simply be aware of it, one breath at a time.
You may feel your attention wandering. You may realize that you’ve been lost in thought, planning, remembering, whatever. Perhaps it’s been quite some time since you last felt the breath consciously. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to judge or analyze, or try to figure out how you’ve got to where you’ve got to. Don’t worry. See if you can gently let go of whatever the distraction has been and simply begin again. Gently let go and return the attention to the actual feeling of the breath. This act of beginning again is the essential art of meditation practice; over and over and over, we begin again. You may find your attention wandering constantly. It doesn’t matter. The mind has been trained to be distracted. In a very relaxed and patient manner, just let go, reconnect, come back to the feeling of the breath in this very moment, the natural, uncontrived, normal breath. You don’t have to worry about even the breath you’ve just taken, or the very next one to come. There’s no comparison, no anticipation—it’s the breath right in this moment, as it’s happening. You can settle the mind there. Feel it. Don’t try to hold on to the breath. You may discover that there’s a pause or a gap between the inbreath and the outbreath, or between the outbreath and the next inbreath. If you find such a pause, you can allow the attention to settle in the body. Simply feel your body sitting there. Then allow the next breath to come naturally. End the session by gently opening your eyes. Listen to sounds, feel your body, and see if you can bring some of this quality of presence and connection to the next activity you perform in the day.
Monday–Friday: Meditate for twenty minutes in the morning and in the evening, focusing on the breath.
Weekend Challenge: Devote two hours this weekend to contemplation of the breath. Sessions should be at least thirty minutes long. Spend the entire two hours in silence, alone or with other practitioners.