To reap the potential benefits that result from practicing sitting meditation you must establish and follow through with a
Suggestions for Practicing Sitting Meditation from
Breathe, You Are Alive, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Meditation has two aspects: stopping and observation or looking deeply. Stopping is concentration, and looking deeply is insight. The Full Awareness of the Breath, or of any other object such as the body, the feelings, the mind, the objects of mind, and so forth, all aim at the goal of concentrating the mind on an object so that it is possible to see the object in all its depth. Concentrating the mind is stopping it from running around from one object to another in order to stay with just one object. We stay with one object in order to observe it and look deeply into it. In this way, stopping and observing become one. Thanks to our ability to stop, we are able to observe. The more deeply we observe, the greater our mental concentration becomes. Stopping and collecting our mind, we naturally become able to see. In observing, the mind becomes increasingly still. We do not need to search for anything more. We only need to practice these simple exercises.
Here are seven different ways to focus on putting the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing into practice. Please use whatever focus suits you in your present situation and practice those exercises first. Although the sixteen exercises of practicing full awareness breathing are intimately connected to one another, the order in which they’re given is not necessarily a progression from easy to difficult. Every exercise is as wonderful as every other, as easy and as difficult as every other one. We can, however, say that the preliminary instructions place greater importance on “stopping,” and the later ones place more importance on “looking deeply,” although, of course, stopping and looking deeply cannot exist separately from one another. If there is stopping, looking deeply is already present, more or less; and if there is looking deeply, there is a natural stopping. The subjects for full awareness suggested below can be divided into seven categories:
1. Following the Breath in Daily Life (Exercises 1-2) Breathe, You Are Alive pgs. 38-45
2. Awareness of the Body, (Exercise 3) pgs. 46-52
3. Realizing the Unity of Body and Mind, (Exercise 4) pgs. 53-58
4. Nourishing Ourselves with the Joy and Happiness of Meditation (Exercises 5-6) pgs. 59-64
5. Observing Feelings (Exercises 7-8) pgs. 65-69
6. Caring for and Liberating the Mind (Exercises 9-12) pgs. 70-82
7. Looking Deeply in Order to Shed Light on the True Nature of All Dharmas (Exercises 13-16) pgs. 82-107
Those who decide to take the path of mindfulness and meditation must know how to practice both the first subject (following the breath in daily life) and the fourth (nourishing ourselves with the joy of meditation). Every time we practice sitting meditation, we should always begin with these two subjects. Only after that should we go into the other subjects. Every time we notice our state of mind becoming agitated, dispersed, or ill at ease, we should practice the fifth subject (observing in order to shine light on our feelings). The seventh subject (seeing things as they truly are) is the door that opens onto liberation. The first six subjects all involve stopping as well as looking deeply, but the seventh emphasizes looking deeply. Only after we have the capacity to concentrate our mind with great stability should we embark on this subject.
Neither the sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing nor the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness mentions the technique of counting the breath; however, for anyone brand new to meditation this may be the best technique for starting your practice. Try this: Breathing in, count “one.” Breathing out, count “one.” Breathing in, count “two.” Breathing out, count “two.” Continue up to ten and then start counting over again. If at any time you forget where you are, begin again with “one.” The method of counting helps us refrain from dwelling on troublesome thoughts; instead we concentrate on our breathing and the number. When we have developed some control over our thinking, counting may become tedious and we can abandon it and just follow the breath itself.
The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing
The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing is divided into six sections. Section Two: the Sixteen Exercises is the heart of the sutra. This section elaborates the sixteen methods of fully aware breathing in connection with the Four Establishments of Mindfulness.
Four Establishments of Mindfulness:
Form - The Body
The Sixteen Methods of Fully Aware Breathing in Connection with the Four Establishments of Mindfulness:
Form - The Body
1. Breathing in a long breath, I know that I am breathing in a long breath, breathing out a long breath, I know I’m breathing out a long breath
2. Breathing in a short breath, I know that I am breathing in a short breath, breathing out a short breath, I know I’m breathing out a short breath
3. Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body, breathing out, I am aware of my whole body
4. Breathing in, I calm my whole body, breathing out, I calm my whole body
5. Breathing in I feel joyful, breathing out I feel joyful
6. Breathing in I feel happy, breathing out, I feel happy
7. Breathing in, I am aware of my mental formations, breathing out, I am aware of my mental formations
8. Breathing in, I calm my mental formations, breathing out, I calm my mental formations
9. Breathing in, I am aware of my mind, breathing out, I am aware of my mind
10. Breathing in, I make my mind happy, breathing out, I make my mind happy
11. Breathing in, I concentrate my mind, breathing out, I concentrate my mind
12. Breathing in, I liberate my mind, breathing out, I liberate my mind
13. Breathing in, I observe the impermanence of all dharmas, breathing out, I observe the impermanence of all dharmas
14. Breathing in, I observe the disappearance of desire, breathing out, I observe the disappearing of desire
15. Breathing in, I observe cessation, breathing out, I observe cessation
16. Breathing in, I observe letting go, breathing in, I observe letting go
Thich Nhat Hanh, Breathe, You Are Alive!