Monday, November 16, 2009

Marie D: Did you know the practice of the mindfulness of breathing helps develop our memory, concentration, &

focus ? I read your question, but the system only allows so many words. So I had to ask the question, in order to send the information to you.

In the mindfulness of breathing we use the breath as the object of our attention. We follow the physical sensations of the breath as it flows in and out of the body. This practice of discipline isn’t really a breathing exercise, for we allow the breath to flow naturally, as we observe it. So there is no control over the breath!

The first thing we learn as we practice this disciplinary practice is how distracted our minds are ! We’ll observe all sorts of distracting thoughts and feelings flowing into our minds, and discover that our attention is no longer on our breath. What comes into our minds is not actually very useful, it’s actually bad for us. For example, we feel impelled, driven anxiously, or being easily angered while thinking on something else, or worrying about something we need to accomplish = we are distracted, instead of attentively being in the present moment, following the sensations of our breath. The simple practice behind this disciplinary practice is that we keep bringing our attention back to the breath, over and over again, then our mind gradually quiets/calmns down, and we are content.

Preferably this is done with the eyes closed, to minimize distractions.

In the mindfulness of breathing we give our breath our full attention. We are simply following the physical sensations of the breath. We start off by following the breath. After a while what tends to happen is we forget all about the breath, as we are carried away by a chain of distracting thoughts, which usually have nothing to do with what we are to be giving our attention to, at this present moment. We usually do not make any conscious decision to think about something outside of this disciplinary practice on our breath, it just simply happens as habitual patterns of behavior come into play. In fact, not only do we not choose to get distracted, we do not have much of a choice at all !!

In essence, our habits are controlling us ! It is more like our thoughts are thinking us than we are thinking them ! The fact that we aren’t in control isn’t cause to become despondent – it’s the same for everyone most of the time. We have to become aware of how distracted we really are, before we can do anything about it. So what do we do when we are anxiously driven, worrying, angered, undermining ourselves, dozing off, or fantasizing about things we’d rather be doing ? These activities are not helpful, or fulfilling. And they’re definitely not things we decided to do, they are simply unwholesome habitual things we do when we are not fully aware, when we are not giving our full attention on the breath. These are hindrances to accomplishing one’s goal. There is a Big difference of being mindful, and not being mindful. If we can not be mindful with our breath, we can be mindful throughout our daily activities in life – whether at work, school, home, or wherever we are !! So how do we regain our Attention ? This is a crucial point in the mindfulness of breathing! We do not have to be driven by our unwholesome distracting habits. We can decide we no want to re-enter that distracting world, which are driven by unwholesome habits. We have the opportunity to cultivate our awareness by maintaining the mindfulness of the breath.

When we realize we’ve been distracted, with full attention, we take ourselves back to our breath.

We can choose not only what to do, by bringing our attention back to our breath, but also how we do it. There can be a strong temptation to be irritated with ourselves, and beat ourselves up over the head, when we’re distracted. But when we do this, we go right back into the uncontrolled habitual pattern of distractedness and we undermine ourselves, continuing to be annoyed or angry. A more creative response is that we take ourselves, our full attention to the breath with as much kindness and Patience AND Gentleness as we can! Instead of giving yourself a hard time about having been distracted, you can congratulate yourself on having brought full attention back to the breath with kindness, gentleness, and patience !! The mind has a natural tendency to wander, just like a young inquisitive animal. So there is no need in being harsh with yourself.

How do we develop awareness ? We go back to the breath, which serves as an anchor that helps us stay in complete awareness, to be alert in the present moment. We are practicing recognizing the difference between awareness and unawareness. And we are working on increasing our cognitive thinking skills, memory, concentration, focus, as well as developing the qualities of Patience, kindness, compassion, gentleness, and self-control that are so very important when we realize when we’ve been unaware – when we’ve just come out of being distracted and have regained our awareness. We are also training ourselves to stay out the hindrances. Becoming distracted is a bit like falling over when you’re a child. When we try to follow the breath it’s like we’ve decided to walk. But then after a few steps, we stumble, by being distracted. But we keep picking ourselves up, by going back to the breath. The way a child learns to walk is by taking a few steps, falling, then picking themselves up, over and over again. The way we learn to be build our mind, increase our memory, build more concentration, and to be more aware is by following the breath, getting distracted, and then going back to the breath – over and over and over again. This process builds up the quality of Patience within us.

How do we develop Calmness ?

Hindrances are not a very satisfying states of mind. Being annoyed, or fantasizing, or undermining ourselves, all involve a lot of mental disharmony. They cause turbulence in our minds, and we find that we are not very calm. The hindrances are states in which we are not very happy.

If we are fantasizing, for example – either about things we’d rather be doing, or about things we’re not happy about – then there’s emotional disharmony since we’re not happy what we’re doing. Spending less time in distracting states of mind means that we become more content.

And when we’re distracted then we’re not very concentrated - our mind is jumping from one topic to another like a monkey (this is what we call our monkey mind). This doesn’t mean we don’t experience anything very deeply – like when we’re talking to someone and we’re also preoccupied and realize they’ve been talking but we don’t know what they’ve said. That kind of thing doesn’t help us connect very deeply with our experience. And how can we reflect if we can’t keep up a focused train of thought ? And if we can not reflect, how then can we learn ?

Practicing mindfulness helps us to be more concentrated so that we can live more deeply, and appreciate life more fully !

As you prepare your body, then become more aware of the physical sensations of your breath. Whenever your mind wander, with patience, gently bring it back to the breath.

Then, count after each breath, starting at One, placing a number after each exhalation of breath. When you get to ten, then start again at one. Next, do the same as above, but counting just before each inhalation breath. Next, Narrow your focus, until you are concentrating on the physical sensations of the breath flowing over the rims of your nostrils.

Mindfulness of Breathing helps to be much more calm, at peace mentally, more focused, concentration well, in the present moment. And at the same time it energizes us, as it refreshes us within.

“In the long term it helps us to develop more awareness so that we have More freedom to choose what our responses are going to be in any given situation. In situations where we might worry, or be angry, or might be anxious, we can now choose instead to cultivate Patience, wisdom, understanding, and a calm, peaceful state of mind.”

Practicing Mindfulness is enormously enriching. Instead of being only half aware of what we are doing, we can fully and richly experience every moment of our lives. We’ll begin to enjoy our food more, but especially it will help us to concentrate much better at work, at home, and anywhere we are – in the present moment. It will help us to actually be more present when listening to our family’s and friends, not being distracted by roaming thoughts in our minds while the other person is speaking. It will help us to slow down our speech when speaking to another person, for rapid speech/talking fast, is always a sign of an anxious mind. We’ll begin to speak more slowly, calmly, with self-control, thus giving another our full attention. Many people also practice The Mindfulness of Breathing right before going to sleep, to give them a very calm, sound nights sleep.

You might be wondering, Why the Counting of the Breath ?

We train our mind, through counting, to keep us well focused.

It is very easy to just, as some say, “Space out”, instead of fully practicing the mindfulness of breathing. When we “space out”, we get distracted, without even realizing it. The counting helps to give us a more objective sense of how much of the time we are distracted, and how much we are remaining aware. Counting helps us to measure how long we are maintaining our awareness.

At first, it is even hard for us to really stay focused on our breath, for even five breaths. As we develop this discipline, we’ll find ourselves able to go through many cycles(of ten) breaths, before we are distracted. Counting the breath also gives us something to aim for - goal. The numbers help us to develop right effort, as well as to help us build endurance.

Everyone gets distracted, even those who have been practicing the mindfulness of breathing for years. It is like having a garden: the first stage in creating a beautiful garden is to realize how many weeds need to cleared away. Dealing with “the weeds” in your mind, brings you inner peace and happiness. It’s as if you’ve just inherited a beautiful garden, which is full of weeds. You just can’t pretend that the weeds aren’t there – you have to do something about them. It is like that with your mind. By just leaving it alone, it will just get worse. The best thing to do is to get started as soon as possible on clearing out those mind – weeds. If you ever feel frustrated with your distractions, then remember that when you’ve been distracted during mindfulness of breathing, you have a choice You can choose to exercise Patience and Gentleness with yourself or you can get impatient, angry, and despondent which will only make things worse. So, as the teenagers say, “Chill” and Patiently continue to clear those weeds from your wild monkey mind.

Sometimes you might find counting numbers boring and might want to drop the number altogether. This is often how the beginner feels. If you’ve finally developed a certain stillness and calmness, then you can “temporarily” drop the counting.

But this does not happen too often for the beginner. But most often, the desire to drop the counting is a resistance to structure from within us, or caused by the desire to be passive. Sometimes our mind would rather just daydream. Let us be honest with ourselves as to what our real motivation is.

If the numbers seem mechanical, then bear in mind that this is not inevitable – it’s a product of the way your mind is working.

If you approach the numbers mechanically, then they will seem to be only mechanical to you. But if you approach the numbers gracefully, and creatively, then they’ll seem natural and fluid.

One way to contact that natural fluidity is to place the numbers very lightly before and after the breath. Place the numbers very tenderly and with care, as if you are kissing your child on the cheek who has fallen asleep. However, if your mind is very distracted, then you should make the numbers more definite and firm. But try to do it with care.

Counting on your fingers working when your mind has been Very distracted; needs to be under control, to come back to the breath. You don’t actually move or touch your fingers, but simply bring your awareness to the fingers, counting on them.

When you are Really distracted this helps you to keep your mind more fully anchored than simply counting numbers.

This method can be used as a stabilizer, like training wheels for our mind. For some, it quite helpful.

After practicing The Mindfulness of Breathing for a few days, step back, and see how things are going. Learning this discipline, is not easy, it is a learned process.

Learning the Mindfulness of Breathing involves learning to see ourselves – our (so to speak) warts and all. It requires that we take full responsibility for our thoughts, the words we speak, and our actions, rather than using other people as scapegoats for our own failings, ie: you made me angry, you caused me to react this way, or that way.

There are always up and downs in learning any disciplinary skill. Anyone who has ever learned a new skill, like skiing, rollerblading, remembers possibly thinking “this is impossible, I’ll never learn this well, and maybe even regretting ever getting started.” It can be just like that with The Mindfulness of Breathing. But I’d like to remind you that you are not alone, and that you are going through a disciplinary process that many other people have gone through, and have come out of the other side of – successful, happy, and having peace of mind.

You do, however discover that you do have some problems, or may I call them, challenges, which you never knew you had. Before you may have just had an irritating co-worker, now you realize that you are responsible for all your own mental states, and that your irritabilities are the construction of your own mind. This realization is a shock, at first. Once you, and all of us, for that matter, realize that we are responsible for our own life, for our own mental and emotional states, then we come closer to cultivating the qualities in us, to counter act those unwholesome states. Mindfulness of Breathing is sometimes like an unflattering mirror. But without this practice, it can be very easy to delude ourselves in seeing ourselves as purer, more gentle, more patient, more kinder, more intellectual, more social, than we really are. Mindfulness of Breathing helps us to see things, and ourselves – as we really are. It polishes the mirror, helping us to clearly see things, situations, other people and especially ourselves as they really are. But we realize that it is best that we deal with things, which we actually have control over, namely – ourselves. And not to harshly judge others, but to take full responsibility for ourselves, our own minds.

The Path may even seem hard and rocky, the way at times may even seem impassible, but over time your stamina and resilience “will” improve, and so will your Patience, and Understanding.

How to see signs of improvement. Sometimes we do not see improvements within ourselves as quickly as others see the improvements in us. I have people tell me that you are more relaxed, less negatively reactive, more patient, and more friendly. Pay more attention to the fact that you have developed more continuity of awareness, alertness, and do not allow your thoughts to go astray. You are increasing you cognitive abilities, cultivating awareness, concentration, memory; pay attention to these facts. Slowing down in life, paying closer attention to the outside world, being fully present in each and every moment, is a very good indication of improvement. Becoming aware of your thoughts, as you think them, choosing carefully what to speak beforehand, and acting as well as reacting in a wholesome manner, are all excellent signs that you have made much improvement in your practice of your mindfulness of breathing.

You remember when you use to be quite impatient, and easily angered, and are now much more patient. You are able to catch your responses, choosing a more creative way to respond.

That calm, mental Peace is the umpire of your mind and heart !!

Marie D: Did you know the practice of the mindfulness of breathing helps develop our memory, concentration, %26amp;
Didn't you say that this was just for Jenfleur?;...

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