Continual Breath Awareness
Unfortunately the fact that the peace and tranquility that we come to experience in meditation will not stick with us is one of the reported frustrations of the practice of meditation. It doesn’t stick! It works great sometimes but later the relaxation and calm fades and we are back in the rut again. This should not surprise us, this can happen when practicing any-thing, our comprehension can often will seem to plateau as well as having peaks and valleys. If our practice is not consis-tent this will surly happen. It can take years to reach a sustain-ing level of mental clarity and calm if we only work at it pe-riodically. But, it also necessary to understand that the bene-fits from meditation often show up off the cushion, outside of the formal meditation, and that we should not necessarily even be looking for changes or benefits to occur as this will likely only get in the way of our practice. But again, the key is consistency and just simply doing it.
One major problem people have with meditation practice is that they don’t do it. Why? They fail to make the time for it. They don’t set aside the required time each day to do the practice. The number one excuse given for this is, “I don’t have the time in my schedule”. With this practice of Continual Breath Awareness, this is no longer a problem because the practice can be done at any time.
When it comes to mental clarity we should know that the mind has options as to what it can dwell upon, it can dwell in fear and anger or it can dwell in peace and joy. The awakened person possesses their own key to unlock the door to freedom and keep it unlocked, because the awakened mind is conti-nually aware. This is the aim for most meditators and it should be, the peace and joy that we get glimpses of when we begin a meditation practice can be ours permanently once we get to the point where we learn to choose where we wish to dwell, the choice is ours and it starts with awareness and the breath, what we could call our inner world, and once grounded there we use this awareness to notice our connection with the outer world of form.
Continual Breath Awareness is working with awareness whenever possible, it is being aware of the breath as much as we possibly can. In the initial stages of the practice, the ideal situation would be that you remain aware of the breath from the moment you wake until the time you fall asleep at night. Not an easy task at first but this type of breath awareness can be practiced while you are eating, cleaning, working, playing, driving, talking and especially while you are in formal medita-tion. This type of Breath Awareness can be a full time practice for those wishing to increase their level of awareness to the highest degree. Once one decides to take this path there are no longer any excuses for not practicing meditation because there is no longer any practice, it simply becomes a part of life.
It should be understood that this is not a pranayama or an yogic type of breathing, Continual Breath Awareness does not involve the manipulation of the breath in any way, although positive physical benefits are likely, this practice is not in-tended to enhance physical well being and is a meditation technique that promotes concentration and mindfulness.
Most of us should be familiar with breath awareness if we have been doing any breath based practices in this book up to this point. Breath awareness is when we attempt to focus our attention on our breathing as the air comes into the body and as it leaves the body. By doing this the mind is given something to concentrate on and we are then immediately brought to a state of presence if the practice is done correctly.
With Continual Breath Awareness we are developing the ability to feel a particular sensation within the body at the times when we are aware, this then leads to a sensation sig-naling when we are in a state of pure awareness. The breath is used both as a tool for concentrating the mind as well as a trigger to bring about this state of pure awareness which will be used to change the way in which we perceive the outer world. Periodically we do a Continual Breath Awareness Retreat, my job is to first help people experience and then use the sen-sations within the body that are triggered by the breath. This is no easy task since the sensations are different for each per-son but it is accomplished. Bringing about a state of aware-ness is a going within, which is the next step. So, it is as if we are first bringing our awareness into us where it is gathered and physically felt, and then it is used out in the world, any-where we choose to use it. We are simply bringing our atten-tion to the breath to the point where we feel what can only be described as a sensation of awareness within us.
Breath Awareness is done when we are using the breath as our meditation object, which is to say that we are using the breath for our point of concentration. We know that this is nothing new, the breath is by far the most common medita-tion object used and rightly so, it is always with us. We can have nothing in this world and still own the most useful medi-tation tool known to man, the breath. Typically we use the breath during our formal sitting meditation practice and once we are finished with the practice we forget about the breath and go about our day never giving our old friend, the breath, another thought until we are ether back in meditation or have difficulty breathing for some reason.
This is a practice that sustains breath awareness and is a practice that is often used during long retreats and it would not be uncommon to hear it be used during any retreat. I first heard of people doing Continual Breath Awareness when doing ten day retreats in Thailand and then again when re-searching information about retreats that are designed around concentration in Burma. I found that the retreats in Burma lasted three months and the practitioners are told to retain their awareness on the breath the entire time, that is until the awareness its self takes over and the breath takes a back seat so to speak, which is something that eventually will happen. When on retreat in Thailand the emphasis was always on the breath. I was instructed to stay with the breath while walking, eating, and listening (no talking allowed). The teach-ers continually checked with the meditators to encourage their continual awareness of breath and you could see the re-treat participants gently pointing at their chest, pointing to what was affectionately called “the spot”. They could be seen doing this as they were walking or just simply finding a deeply aware moment; they were of course referring to the breath-body-awareness contact point, the place where they were in-structed to feel the breath. (The chest, or the area of the heart doesn’t have to be the area used as this spot but it can be) we do not have to be on retreat to benefit from Continual Breath Awareness, it can be practiced anytime and everywhere.
With this sustained form of Breath Awareness, we are bringing our attention “within” and by doing so we are bring-ing our awareness “within” discovering it feeling it and then using it out in the world and by doing so we it aids in control-ling the many thousands of needless thoughts that we have each day.
By noticing them and then watching them through aware-ness the thoughts become less and the ones that are there become much more useful. We are not zoning out or trying to hide from the thoughts, but are simply being more aware of their messages, this allows us to function within the world while we practice. In fact with Continual Breath Awareness, as you will see, allows you to function in the world much easier. The primary purpose of the practice of continual breath awareness is that it can be used as an aid to notice the feel-ings that arise at the point of contact with all that we expe-rience out in the world.