5 Jul
2018
Posted in: Talks
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Standing Like a Tree; Breathing Like a Buddha

This post is long, I know, but bear with me. It’s another excerpt (which I just couldn’t cut!) from the terrific Qi Gong and Anapanasati talk by Ajahn Sucitto.

“In teaching Mindfulness of Breathing over many years, and listening to people in interviews, so many of them say to me, ‘Aggh… I can’t do it! My brain is thinking all the time. I feel so tense and tight. I’m trying to focus on this point on my nostrils — I can’t find it at all. I can’t meditate!

‘I try really hard to do it and I’m getting more and more tense. I just give up. I can’t manage it. I was breathing OK until I started being mindful of it! I could breathe in and out quite normally and then when I started being mindful of it, I started getting tight and constricted; I felt pain; I felt uncomfortable; I felt stressed, and you know… Surely this can’t be right! The Buddha says: I call this a comfortable abiding, a pleasant abiding, it makes one feel fresh, one’s eyes feel good… This can’t be the same thing. What’s happening?’

“What’s happening is: the mind is affecting the breath. Before we brought it to our attention, breathing wasn’t a problem. We had other problems — also which were because of our attention — like thinking about this, thinking about that, and our attitudes.

“But very often, for people these days, it’s the ‘work mind’ that comes forward. The ‘work mind’ rushing to get things done; the ‘work mind’ anxious about not doing it good enough; the ‘work mind’ desperately in a hurry to try to achieve results; the ‘work mind’ tightening up to make sure we’ve got it exactly the way it should be. The ‘work mind’: stress, stress, stress, stress, stress. The mind gets conditioned into that kind of behavior. Anything we think is important, anything we think we really should achieve — the ‘work mind’ gets hold of it.

“You were breathing OK until you started to think it was important, and you thought it was going to give you good results. Important! Good results! Ahhh: go to work.

“And it IS important. We DO want good results. There IS certainly a process, and a progress – so it must be ‘work’, right? I don’t think so….

“In the Buddha’s time there wasn’t that ‘work mind’. They could certainly put energy in, but it was not that same compulsive, tight, up-in-your-head state of the ‘worker,’ who lives up behind the eyes and the forehead….

“We think: ‘OK, anapanasati, right — let’s get to work on that. Have we got it in our heads? Tighten up the mind! Tighten up the face!’

“We think this is concentration. The English word “concentration” CAN be applied to that. But that’s not samadhi. There’s no piti (happiness). No sukkah (ease, comfort). Those are not there.

“And it is sad. Because there is a true sincerity, and a true determination, to cultivate the mind. But we’re doing it with the wrong energy. It’s the right idea, right theory, right aspiration, wonderful resolve! But we’re using the wrong energy.

“What the Buddha is saying is there’s a natural energy that happens by itself. Breathing in — happens by itself. Breathing out — happens by itself. There’s an energy flow there.

“This is what we should get in touch with. With the kind of quality of attention that can maintain that focus. It’s not a focus that’s up in our forehead, which is so often where we assume it should be. We call it ‘watching the breath.’ Watching the breath? I’ve never seen a single breath! [laughter] Maybe on a very cold morning you might see a bit of mist. But I’ve never seen a breath. And I’ve been practicing this for years. When I look in the suttas, the Buddha never says ‘watch the breath’. He says ‘be mindful of breathing in and breathing out.’ He’s talking about being mindful of a process. Of breathing in and breathing out. So rather than this idea of being up in your head, with tightening your attention, maybe there’s another way that we can attend to that.

“And yes, there is.

“When you cultivate qi gong, you take a standing position. Like a tree. You bring your awareness particularly down to your feet, your ankles, and then you build it up, and gradually you spread your awareness from the soles of the feet, up through the body, through the spine, through the trunk, into the head. So that you cover the entire body and it is held in alignment. It’s called: balance. So you’re definitely attentive. You’re fully aware. Your mind isn’t wobbling or jumping around. It’s not dithering. Or confused. It’s actually firmly based on the entire body — as an energy form. We focus on the quality of balance.

“You can’t do that with a thought. You can’t think: balance. But your body can feel it. You can sense it. You come to realize this body is sensitive to a quality of balance, which itself is rather pleasant because there’s no stress in balance.

“Balance means the absence of stress. We’re not inclining to left or right, forward or backward. Balance is free of bodily bias. It’s free of pressure. When you’re in balance, you’re as stress-free as you can get.

“And there’s an energy there, that becomes apparent, that’s holding your body up. You learn to relax as much of your muscle as possible when you feel yourself being held. This is called: Standing Like a Tree. And the awareness is spread over the entire body. As you stand like that, sustaining that, there is a way of holding attention that is not narrow. It’s not constricted, it’s not conducive to stress, and yet it is very carefully held. You use a wide focus to do that.

“As you stand with that, you can begin to experience that there is this rhythm that starts to express itself and then… oh, there’s breathing! It’s a soft, rhythmic process. And you feel the energy of it. The vitality of it. You feel the way the whole body can feel it. That it’s no longer so constricted.

“So this gives a very good way in my experience of both improving bodily posture and changing one’s idea or impression of what the body is about. So that it’s not just this thing that we see with our eyes; it’s not the flesh body; it’s an energy body. It’s something that we begin to see is quite natural. It’s not mentally derived. It’s not an opinion or a view. It’s neither something we feel proud of or worried about. It’s free of those mental proclivities. It happens by itself. It’s naturally refreshing. And it’s naturally sustaining; it’s naturally calming; it’s naturally clearing of tension, dullness, restlessness — the hindrances! (The energies of the hindrances.) When the body is bright and open like that, the hindrances find it very difficult to get in. And so, you cultivate attention like that.

“The result of this is the body loses its tensions and congestions. It becomes a happy place for one’s awareness to sit, and breathing happens to you quite naturally. In other words, you don’t have to search for it. It comes to you. It comes into your awareness.

“You don’t have to decide where to focus; you feel it. You feel it as it’s happening. You’re training your mind to be more receptive to a natural process rather than being proactive and having to create something. This means that the mental obstructions and the mental proclivities — particularly the ones we experience as the mind set I call ‘work  mind’ — these can be laid aside. And instead we feel the natural harmony, peace, and vitality that the Buddha must have experienced in his own process of awakening.

“So then we are truly breathing like a Buddha.

“How do you think the Buddha breathed? Chest open, shoulders back. Enjoying the bliss of breathing in and breathing out. This is nature. Nature manifesting in this way.”

***

Click here for the full recording. The excerpt above begins at about the 38 minute mark.

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