Gus was discussing control in relation to the breath. I was getting at the idea of stepping back a bit and broadening the awareness so there is a dynamic awareness of the breath and its impact on the body. The use of ‘breath energy’ is a term coined by Thanissaro so best speak to him about this issue of terminology. Anyhow how do you work with the breath Mat?
I do try to notice what the breath does to the rest of the body. I have asthma, so it’s possible that I’m more sensitive than most are to changing levels of oxygen in the blood. I don’t try to label this as an energy or a mind state or a flow. I just feel it rise and fall. It doesn’t need to do or be anything else, I don’t believe.
Tanouye Roshi was a Rinzai Zen master and abbot of Chozen-ji. This line of teaching is very demanding and is based on simultaneous practice with the arts, martial or otherwise. I attended as a student of Aikido as taught by Sensei Shiohira.
In the Japanese arts, the breath is important. If the breath is shallow, the work is shallow. If the breath is long, the work grows and glows correspondingly. We are taught to breath from hara. We are taught to bring forth action and speech from hara. And we practiced zazen with focus on breathing.
At the beginning of retreat, we did shodo. This is calligraphy. We would take a huge brush and brush out a single stroke across a sheet of newspaper. We would hang these up around the dojo for the entire retreat. At the end of the retreat, we would repeat the shodo and hang it up. And what was revealed, and what we all saw, was that all our lines glowed with ki at the end of the retreat. The lines at the begining were dark and lifeless. During retreat our breaths had changed with meditation and immersion.
If our breaths are short, it is often because they are not deep. It is almost as if we inhale a bit into our throats and then exhale. When our breath is long, we inhale down, all the way down to hara. This lengthens and slows the breath at the same time. If we breath quickly and deeply we hyperventiate. Instead, we breath slow, long and deep.
One time after meditation, my friend next to me said. “I heard your breath. It was rough. Shouldn’t it be smooth?” I said, “I don’t know, but what you heard was the beat of my heart.”
Did you use the same pain and the brush?
How do you know that he heard your heart beat?
We used stanadard shodo ink and shodo brush. By glowing, I did not mean “day-glow”. By glowing I meant that the eye perceived a clarity of line. Roshi gave a long Dhamma talk on how important breath was. That actions completed with a single effortless breath would show ink particle alignment. He also mentioned that scientists had done microscopic analysis of ancient calligraphy and verified that there was indeed more coherence in the brushstrokes of the masters. This is what we were noticing.
In shodo, we drew the diagonal line slowly in one breath from the bottom left corner all the way to the top right. At the beginning of retreat my breath was shorter and I had to rush the stroke and the wobble showed. At the end of the retreat, the breath was stable and long. This made the line stable, clear and long. We all saw each other’s lines and verified this. Since that day over three decades ago, I have always tried to do my best with a single breath. Incidentally, this also applies to climbing. I move within a single breath. It may be one move or five, but it is just one breath, one life, one action.
Deep in meditation, one hears one’s own heartbeat. This is not magic. This is just all the noise dropping away. We can all hear own own heartbeats. Just run around the block and jump into a quiet room. You will hear your heart beating fast fast fast. In meditation it is the same. One hears the heart. Slow slow slow.
When I heard my heart beat, I thought to myself, “What if I let my breath follow my heart?”
And so during the exhale there was a slight variation in exhalation that both of us heard. Normally the breath is quiet, but I was experimenting with constricting the nasal passages just because that was something to do. So the passage of the exhalation was blocked slightly and the exhalation became a soft hissing that we both heard. The hissing was not smooth, it varied with the heart beat. I was actually surprised he heard it–I was just experimenting with stuff trying to attain Roshi’s unimaginable one breath per minute pace. My thought was to constrict the nasal passage instead of letting the breath slow on its own. Now I just breath and stop worrying so much.
But definitely do research on meditation breathing, and consult with a teacher. Breath awareness is very important. It is a gradual process. Your progress will be quicker than mine and you will easily be able to double the length of your breaths. For me that is not so easy.
Energy refers the 4 elements: fire, earth, water and air. Asthma will have an impact on your experience of the breath in terms of those elements.
Do you mean like holding your breath? I do that occasionally when I’m very tense. But obviously the body will “force” you to breath again sooner or later. If there is some tension present, then changing the way you think about the practice might help, for example “noticing” the breath instead of “watching” it ( arguably a more accurate way of describing sati here ).
One of my teachers used to describe the best approach as “alert yet relaxed”, which I think describes it quite well.
Thanks, IMO that’s a really nice description/set of instructions for anapanasati. While I’m familiar with and have used his satipatthana approach and writings, I hadn’t come across this before. It looks like the planned book will develop this further, and be a combination of practical exercises and recorded meditation instructions, as in his recent satipatthana practice guide book with freely-available audios, and relevant sutta parallel comparisons as in earlier books.
Do you mean like holding your breath?
Yes. In one approach to my practice, I had been trying not to desire to breathe, but rather to breathe without desiring. Except this ends up meaning that I just don’t breathe, because I’m suppressing the desire to do so. (Until I can’t, anyway.)
In the other approach that I’d described, I’m not suppressing that desire. This seems to be the better approach, in part because I’m not short of oxygen.
Just popping in to remind everyone that D&D is a forum to discuss Early Buddhist Texts. While a certain amount of flexibility in focus makes for interesting discussion, this is not the place to discuss individual practice issues.
Whoa! Are you trying to practice the “breathless absorption?”. This seems as scary and dangerous as freediving, which has killed practitioners. Please do be careful.
I think we can reflect on our practice in relation to the EBTs. We can express our opinions too otherwise there would be no sense of community.
A well purified fourth jhana will find the breath stopping (another example in the negative that it is possible to feel the body before that). It’s not harmful as it is temporary and the body metabolism has greatly slowed down by then. This is not just not feeling the breath, but it is actually stopping of the breath.
Yes. I understand the breath stops. When an attendant was concerned that Ajahn Chah had died, the monks said, “oh no., he’s just meditating.”
My concern is that one might just experiment with the breathless absorption out of a naive curiousity without prior preparation and grasp breathlessness. This is how freedivers die. They hold onto breathlessness. I have done many stupid things just experimenting. Once I thought:
- Alcohol is flammable
- We have alchohol in a bottle
- I have a match
- I can light the match and put it in the bottle
This is where naive exploration leads. I put the lit match in the bottle. Do not do this.
Find spiritual companions and teachers.
(that was the mandatory cautionary note above).
On actually experiencing stopping of the breath, the question becomes:
- is stopping volitional as in “I hold my breath”? (see above cautionary note) or…
- is stopping the not knowing of which way the breath is going? For example, when inhale turns to exhale or exhale turns to inhale there is a space where one is not sure which direction the breath is going in or out or anyway at all. When we start meditating there is no such space (e.g., exhale/gasp). Later that odd space grows. or…
- is it something else?
Do the EBT’s discuss this?
I just want to be as clear as possible that I was not attempting this type of practice. It was the furthest thing from my mind.
I am a beginning meditator, and in several ways I do not care for the turn that this discussion has taken. All I sought was beginner-level help from an EBT perspective. I think I’ve gotten that. I would hate for my lack of skill to have produced the fruit of other people suffering here, so please don’t try this based on something that I never actually had in mind.
Holding the breath is not the same as the breath stopping on its own due to the body’s natural mechanisms.
It occurs in a purified fourth jhana as well as after the breath becomes so small that it naturally ceases. The latter should take place, after calming to a good degree in Mindfulness of breath (fourth tetrad, Anapanasati sutta). Loss of mindfulness can pretend to be these steps but that should become clear with time). The final place it happens is in ‘Cessation of feeling and perception’ (Nirodha samapatti) which is beyon the 8th formless attainments.
My response was driven by my own curiousity, not in reaction to anything in particular. I simply asked myself about my own apprehension about breathless meditation and realized that I had some questions that Mat has kindly answered. In other threads it has been noted that meditation can lead to undesirable outcomes. As meditators, it helps us to see where the dangers are to be avoided. For example, I still see myself, as I am today, as just as prone to folly as I was as a child holding a lit match, and my admonition was more to myself to be careful rather than anyone in particular. Like you, I too am just learning.
When I was a child, I discovered immersion. And I noticed that the deeper I immersed, the slower my breath became. And I thought to myself, how deep can I go? So I went deep. I went so deep that the thought arose in my head that I might be doing something irreversible. That thought got stronger the more I tried.
I then thought. “Perhaps I will be fine or perhaps I will die. And if I die, my parents will be sad.” So I stopped trying to go so deep so fast so carelessly. This was my basis for posting. And thank you, Gus, for prompting me to explain.
Fear commonly arises in unfamiliar meditative experiences. My experience has been that there’s nothing to fear - what can happen at the most is to fall out of those meditative states. If some mental or physical illness or symptoms arise they will fall away once the meditation ceases. There’s something to be said for taking it slow and steady. I think its helpful to know that the body won’t leave essential bodily functions like breathing to our ‘selves’. It will simply ‘take over’. I can’t see the Buddha asking us to do these things if it is dangerous.
Yes. I do have faith that patient practice will be fine. What I am wary of is my restless impatience. This is after all the guy who put a lit match in an alcohol bottle. The only reason that I am posting now is that the apartment building was concrete. There were flames everywhere. I am still that boy.
No. You’ve learnt from that experience. Learning from life threatening situation are also part of the biological make-up and won’t be left to chance. I’m learning how to manage insulin injections. I learn almost too well when it becomes life threatening, though it isn’t my life. I sometimes see self-sabotaging behaviour. Loving kindness towards oneself goes a long way, in the practice.