Breathing Practices and Emptiness
Here I will introduce you to five breathing practices, each one moving progressively closer and closer to emptiness/no-self experiences. Do your best to remain open in these practices.
- Notice the feel of your posture. Once comfortable notice your breath as it is. Relax and close your eyes if ok. Rest your hands in your lap, on your thighs, or in a mudra. Feel your body sensations as you breathe in and out at your own pace. Just notice the normal breath in the inner quietude. Now slowly deepen and extend your in (arising) and out (falling) breaths. Notice.
- Within the same breathing experience, now bring stronger attention to the inner feel of your body sensations. Allow the sensations to root your present-moment emotional experiences. Notice what the quality of these emotional experiences are. With each breath go a bit deeper into the awareness of the emotional experiences. As you become more keenly aware of your emotional experiences, notice which of the sense-doors are more active. Are emotions based on the past, future. or the present moment? Notice the arising and falling away of experience.
- Now focus on the objects of your mind. Be in choiceless awareness as you simply allow to come into your awareness what ever comes into your awareness. Try not to either desire/cling or avoid what you are experiencing at this time. Let’s move to the five aggregates of experience. Notice material form that you become aware of. Notice your feeling tone. Notice your perceptual experiences as you meditate on breath. Notice the differences between volitional and automatic mental formations – thoughts, etc. Pay attention to the culmination of personal consciousness through these experiences. Continue to meditate on your breath. Perhaps, you will be aware of making contact with objects of consciousness as they occur. Perhaps not.
- As you continue to meditate on your breath, become more aware of the four-links in dependent origination. Nothing arises of itself; everything that arises (and falls) depends upon causes and conditions that allow the arising and the falling. This is dependent origination and impermanence. First notice making sensory contact (in Buddhism this includes thoughts about it) with objects of attention. Then notice how automatically you mind creates a positive or negative (sometimes neutral) evaluation of the contact experience. Next this leads to craving/clinging or avoiding the experiences. When we try to avoid negatives, we suffer; when we try to hold on to positives, we suffer. Contemplate these realities as you meditate on your breath.
- Now we move to impermanence, hints of so-self, and ultimate realities in experiences. Focus strong attention on the exact point of arising into consciousness of objects, contact with them, and emotional experiences. Do the same with the falling away of these “realities.” Bring strong conscious awareness to your breath, continue to meditate on it. Notice the arising of thoughts about experiences, and note the falling away of thoughts about experiences. Who/what is experiencing these experiences? Are they self, not-self, or no-self. Confused? Just meditate now.
- Now just sit quietly, calmly and contemplate what you may have learned from these linked breathing meditations. Any new or clarified insights?
For more information refer to Armstrong, G. (2017). Emptiness: A Practical Guide for Meditators. Somerville, Mass: Wisdom Publications, pp. 13-98.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness