Collective wrote:This morning I stopped becoming aware of just the breath, and attempted to become aware of everything. Breath, smells, air brushing against my skin. . . etc, and above all else I started to sit back and just observe the mind.
It is good that you experimented with this approach. You learned something that you hadn't been aware of before. Once you begin to let go of some of the wooden interpretations of the instructions and follow intuitively where the mind wants to go, you'll begin to take advantage of the natural pliancy of the mind. In doing this, you'll be teaching yourself what works for you and what does not.
Collective wrote:The first thing I noticed was that I didn't become sleepy, my mind/awareness was clear, always switched on as it were, right up to the end.
This is because you established sati
or mindfulness, just as it is suggested in the Satipatthana Suttas, before settling into contemplation meditation. Congratulate yourself! Good work. Keep it up and you'll notice a qualitative difference for the better in your meditation sessions.
Collective wrote:Trouble I get focusing on the breath, is that it envelopes me as my mind narrows in on the breath. But with this all encompassing awareness I'm trying out, I make an effort to be 'in the moment' by taking in everything. I'm not saying I focus on anything that arises to the exclusion of everything else (which was happening when I focused on the breath) I just attempt to wash my awareness over anything that may be happening at any particular moment.
This description is potentially pregnant with meaning. If by indicating that your focusing on the breath allows the mind to become "enveloped" in the breath, then you may be on the verge of entering absorption (or jhana
). This is always a tricky spot for an inexperienced practitioner who is approaching jhana
for the first time, because there is a fine line you have to walk if you want to enter absorption in a healthy manner (as opposed to an unhealthy manner). You have to find a way to maintain your level of sati
while this process is occurring so that you don't allow the mind to become dull or unclear (let go of, so to speak, without a governor or without restraint) on account of the bliss factor that first-time jhana
practitioners experience. By being able to maintain mindfulness while this process is occurring, you will be better able to see (and identify) its elements at play during the experience, and thus be able to maintain a sense of control over the mind during the absorption process. If you let go and follow the bliss (as can be the case in beginners who aren't experienced in maintaining sati
throughout the process), you will allow the mind to slip the bonds of self-discipline needed to maintain the absorption without becoming a victim of it (sometimes known as a "jhana junkie," or someone who becomes enthralled by the bliss while ignoring the prize at the end of the road, which is awakening). Absorption practice is a tool, not
an end in itself. It must be used wisely if you are to gain the prize that it can lead you to.
That said, this is nothing to be afraid of. If this is actually what is happening (and only you
will know because it is you who is experiencing it), all you need to do is go slowly as you forge ahead. Maintaining awareness of the breath in the background (or of any other phenomenon that is simultaneously occurring during this process, as, for example, experiencing a sensation similar to pressure in the center of the forehead region) can have a grounding effect on your ability to maintain sati
Absorption helps to re-condition the mind's ability to maintain concentration at crucial moments throughout the day. So, spending time in samatha
absorption is a good thing, and is ultimately beneficial in the process of developing and cultivating concentration in order to gain insight for awakening. Concentration ability is needed in order maintain a still and focused mind as one examines insight subjects — such as the five aggregates or the three characteristics of existence (impermanence, dissatisfaction, and not-self) while practicing vipassana
Collective wrote:I also find that my mind chatter is reduced a lot when I observe my mind. The breath I now use as an anchor when I need to focus a little more, perhaps if my mind has wandered - which despite my efforts still does now and then.
Reduction in mind chatter, of course, is a good thing. It aids the mind to be able to more clearly "see things as they are."
Using the breath as an anchor when you need to focus is another useful observation that you have made. Your mind can be aware of the breath in the background while you explore other subjects for insight matter (as in vipassana
contemplation). Keeping the breath in mind (even if it is in the background only) is a mindfulness practice. This is why the Buddha recommending breath meditation; the breath is a phenomenon that is always
with us. And it can be used
to maintain mindfulness. Using the breath in this way helps to strengthen abilities in preserving sati
throughout the meditation session. Good for you!
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV