Our first moments in meditation can be a lot like slamming on the breaks in the car... For a moment all sorts of things keeping moving forward, even though the car has stopped. It takes the mind a while to figure out that we are no longer moving and that we are serious about being still.
Often quite a tussle will ensue.. a mental fight over who is in charge of the time spent in quietness - the restless mind or the one who has decided to sit.
In the beginning meditation is a matter of focusing and re-focusing and re-focusing (again and again), gently training the mind to be calm and aware. Later this develops into a much more panoramic awareness and calmness.
This is not something new .. for centuries meditators have been taught to use breathing as a tool for meditation. Simply observing the breath and nothing else. Whatever else happens around or inside of you - just continue to focus solely on the breath.
If you get a cramp in your foot - let it go and just concentrate on the breath. If you have a strong emotion, a juicy memory, a creatively brilliant thought - you just gently tug your attention back a continuous focus on each breath.
It sounds so SIMPLE.. but as we try to do this we begin to noice how truly unruly our minds are and how really difficult it is.
Why do we watch the breath?
We practice breath awareness because it is the perfect starting point for meditators.. the breath:
Is always there - wherever you are and whatever you are doing
It is immediate - it brings us completely into the present moment
It is changing and moving - it captures our interest and maintains our attention
It naturally calms us - slowing our breath and watching its natural rhythm will calms us
It is the foundation practice for other meditative practices
* AND It is an amazingly sensitive barometer for understanding our true reactions to life and the world around us (internal and eternal).
And so the breath will continue to play a crucial role for the meditator:
It shall continue to center and relax us (this is STILLNESS)
It can continue to act as an anchor while training our mind (this is CONCENTRATION)
... and it leads us gently into deeper states of meditation
For beginners to meditation the simplicity of breath meditation can be a bit of a turn-off. People expect something sexier or more highbrow - something more immediate. Focusing on the breath can seem too simple and tedious.
But here is the challenge everyone.. go try it for yourself!
Meditation is experiential, it's an inner science and it's your experiment ... have you given it a go? have you sat and mastered a continued focus on the breath (and only the breath)?