Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Omnipresent Seat of the Full Awareness of Breathing

In a few moments, any of us can reacquire our awareness in the present. However, connecting knowledge with both action and actualization of practice in the heat and throes of pain, suffering, turmoil and conflict is terribly difficult if not seemingly impossible for most. This is why exercising our awareness of breathing can be so potent in aiding us in our daily lives. Simply put, we continue to breathe during all of our daily experiences, even the most difficult and most terrible.

Sometimes, the mind attempts to remind us of this when we're under extreme stress. We become short of breath, panic attacks begin that feel as if we cannot breathe, or we become all huffy and heavy with our breathing; our mind is communicating to us to pay attention to it. Instead, we often continue to ignore it. In this way more systemic, chronic conditions begin to develop. Our capacity to breakthrough these conditions can become limited or obscured as a result of our general inattention and daily lack of awareness. We can retrain our mind if we consistently apply effort to do so. One such vehicle for retraining is through a renewed awareness of our breathing.

Breathing is what connects all of our moments, from birth to death. We should pay attention to it. In fact, we should take every available opportunity to become fully aware of our breathing. Further than that, we have to create those opportunities consciously and consistently for ourselves in an ever more distracting world. Then, when we encounter those inevitable high stress situations, we will have our daily relationship with the full awareness of our breathing to draw upon.

How do we build this relationship with the full awareness of breathing?

We seek guidance from others.

There are those who have contemplated and researched the potency of the awareness of breathing thoroughly, but we should not simply take the words and experiences of anyone as truth; we have to experience these ourselves. However, we can use what others have already accomplished as a starting point of our own exploration.

There is one Buddhist sutra, or scripture, that may assist in exploring a full awareness of breathing. The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing is a powerfully, direct step-by-step guide to begin this process of exploration. Commentaries accompany Buddhist sutra. Modern commentaries can be quite useful, Thich Nhat Hanh, for instance, has a very accessible perspective on this topic.

It may seem crazy to spend hours reading about how to become fully aware of your breathing. However, many others have written books on the topic. An aspect of our lives that is omnipresent: it transcends barriers of language, skill level, capacity, gender, age, and race. We all breathe or we're not alive.

Explore different voices and perspectives on the awareness of breathing. Find one that resonates with your daily life. The goal here is not to be abusive or harsh to ourselves but to make what natural work toward our wellbeing, not against it.

We must explore our awareness of breathing on our own.

Breathing happens naturally without any conscious effort on our part. When we explore that breathing, we're really exploring our mind's awareness using our breathing as a focal point. Is our mind able to focus at all? Is it stressed or relaxed? What else is rolling through our mind besides being aware of our breathing?

Self-exploration is not only recommended, it is imperative. We cannot take anyone's experiences or guidance as factual. It is critical to apply what we think, what we read and what we've been told so as to gain our own experiential information to ascertain a direct understanding. Otherwise, we will never rely upon it during difficulty.

When we become aware that our mind has wandered off again, don't judge or punish the mind. Simply acknowledge this as thinking or feeling and refocus awareness once again. If the mind continues to gallop off repeatedly, try paying complete attention to it. Let it go without trying to restrain it. Why is it doing this? Maybe, there is a very significant reason for this distraction. Explore it thoroughly. Be curious. Don't judge the mind, explore it instead.

We can develop our own working, adaptive understanding through exploration and contemplation.

If we don't create multiple opportunities to explore just our own personal, individual relationship with breathing and its interaction between our body and our mind, we've missed taking that omnipresent seat in our lives. From that seat we can be, see, feel, touch, taste, think, expand, and understand any and every aspect of our lives.

We begin by not working at or worrying about this process. This is not about forcing our mind to do something unnatural. In fact, the objective is to reclaim the natural state of our mind-body connection. Then, we can reforge our connection to our daily lives and to the people within those daily lives.

Breathing, I am aware I am breathing. 
Breathing in, I am aware I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I am aware I am breathing out.
Breathing in, I am aware of how I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I am aware of how I am breathing out.
Breathing in, I am aware of my body.
Breathing out, I am aware of my body.
Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body.
Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I calm my body.

Try the above exercise. Do you feel better? Does your body feel physical relief? How about your mind?

This is the expansive power of returning to the omnipresent seat of the awareness of our breathing. We begin to clear our minds of the cumbersome thought processes that aren't beneficial or productive; we relate directly with our bodies; we connect better with others, helping us to navigate a more complex and distracting world.

We begin ridding ourselves of ineffective and ineffectual mental habits, instead, forming new mental habits that have real, tangible physical, emotional and mental benefits. This is only the beginning steps in this exploration of the full awareness of breathing. We need only crack open the door on the potency of our awareness in order to take our seat and reap the rewards.  This doesn't mean we won't experience pain and suffering, but it will give us a better opportunity to understand and appreciate it.

Source: Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries, Thich Nhat Hanh

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