More Mindfulness in Plain English-and a word of caution

For those who are interested, I have updated my Meditation Page to include a 22 page excerpt from Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.  My last post gives a feel for Gunaratana’s teaching, but really doesn’t do justice to how practical and “nuts and bolts” this instruction is.

If the last post tweaked your interest at all, you might want to take a look at this somewhat longer and more detailed instruction on basic breath mediation, dealing with obstructions, and how to develop insight.  The excerpt is in PDF form, so you can download it and have it on have it on your own computer (or print it out) for your own study.

As a teaser, here’s a bit more from the excerpt below. But first, a qualifier:

In Gunaratana’s form of meditative practice, he advises not noting one’s breath with phrases like “breathing in, breathing out” or “in” and “out,” though he does say that counting can be a skillful means.  Other dharma teachers do teach saying a phrase if it helps you concentrate.  Your mileage may vary.

In the beginning of my meditative practice, I found it helpful at times (and sometimes still do) to include a mental phrase like “in” or “out.” But as I got more practiced, I found this dropped away and I naturally just focused on the breath without need for a focusing phrase. (And there comes point when even the breath is dropped as an object of attention, and consciousness itself becomes the focus.)

The point is, this is your practice; you have to find what’s skillful for you.  However, it’s also skillful to give a technique or teaching a fair try and see if it works for you.  Teachers speak from experience, and they may well be able to help us avoid pitfalls.  If a tennis coach was teaching us tennis, we’d want to listen with some humility and openness to what she or he had to say.  We also have to be aware that learning anything new is hard.

If we jump from technique to technique, or teaching to teaching, just because something is hard and takes patience, we will never develop and progress.  Dharma dilettantes are simply avoiding dealing with themselves, and this precious human life is too short for that. With these caveats in mind, here’s some more of Gunaratana’s very skillful teaching from the excerpt I’ve added to the Meditation page:

“The mind can never be focused without a mental object. Therefore we must give our mind an object which is readily available every present moment. What is present every moment is our breath. The mind does not have to make a great effort to find the breath, for every moment the breath is flowing in and out through our nostrils. As our practice of insight meditation is taking place every waking moment, our mind finds it very easy to focus itself on the breath, for it is more conspicuous and constant than any other object.

After sitting in the manner explained earlier and having shared your loving-kindness with everybody, take three deep breaths. After taking three deep breaths, breathe normally, letting your breath flow in and out freely, effortlessly and begin focusing your attention on the rims of your nostrils. Simply notice the feeling of breath going in and out. When one inhalation is complete and before exhaling begins, there is a brief pause. Notice it and notice the beginning of exhaling. When the exhalation is complete, there is another brief pause before inhaling begins. Notice this brief pause, too. This means that there are two brief pauses of breath–one at the end of inhaling, and the other at the end of exhaling. The two pauses occur in such a brief moment you may not be aware of their occurrence. But when you are mindful, you can notice them.

Do not verbalize or conceptualize anything. Simply notice the in-coming and out-going breath without saying, “I breathe in”, or “I breathe out.” When you focus your attention on the breath ignore any thought, memory, sound, smell, taste, etc., and focus your attention exclusively on the breath, nothing else….”

About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

5 Responses to “More Mindfulness in Plain English-and a word of caution”

  1. thanks fro download link!!!
    Happy new year

  2. Thanks for putting together these very good guidelines on meditation Steven. Such inputs always encourage me to continue in a fresh manner and it inspires me anew to tackle the seemingly impossible task of quieting my mind.

    Also I have been using the ‘breathing in; breathing out’ method in the past, but this ‘mental phrase’ as you name it, makes the exercise precisely that; mental. Recently I’ve replaced this method with the simple awareness that each breath is a brand new breath, a breath never breathed before, and this for me works wonders as my mind seems very happy to go with that thoughtlessly, enabling me to enter the Now moment.

    I also enjoyed reading your article on ‘Seeing things as they really are’. A few years ago I was looking at a glass of water and suddenly the glass lost its ‘identity’. It simply became a ‘form’ with no meaning. I was looking at a thing beyond all mental concepts I’d held about the thing. It was a very beautiful experience lasting for some moments till my mind abruptly broke it off; the experience freaked it out.

    Since then I have occasionally been able to look ‘through’ a leaf or some things in nature, but it is a state which simply arrives. I can’t seem able to deliberately call it forth yet. But always it is a light pointing to the direction I wish to go.

    Sorry about the rambling… its the me me me in me, when I should just remain silent and practice the helpful methods you generously have shared with us 🙂


    p.s. good point Michael J; eye tend to agree that Steve has a way with words easily accessible 🙂

    • Hey Snædís! Your “ramblings” are wonderful and deep, so no worries, OK? 🙂 I often have bouts of profound prolixity, as others have no doubt noticed in some of my comments.

      Anyway, running out the door, but loved what you shared–simple awareness of the breath is really good stuff…..that’s where I tend to end up, most of the time…sometimes, though, as I said, I have to get the monkey mind’s attention with other means.

      I’ve had some of those “just this” moments. They are always a huge boost to me. A tree without thoughts of “tree” is a mighty fine tree!

      With affection,

  3. Steven,

    I sometimes get more out of your introductions and “teachings” than the actual article you are about to quote or introduce. I “understand” your language, but may have trouble with their ways.

    As you say, it’s a matter of getting mileage out of something.

    michael j

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