Friday, 30 December 2016


77. The zazen practice of 'following the breath' sounds simple enough. After all, it is just breathing, in and out, we do it all the time and it is not something we have to think about. Yet as a meditation practice it is, in a sense, altogether too simple and there is the rub. When we turn out attention to this familiar, everyday, vital activity, an activity that requires no thought, we suddenly find ourselves confronted by a host of thoughts and feelings. 'What a vacuous exercise!' 'How boring!' 'I could be doing something much more interesting than this!' 'Such a waste of time!' Nevertheless we are instructed to persevere with returning to our focus on just breathing in, on just breathing out. And in just breathing out we find ourselves letting go of that breathing moment and opening to the new incoming breath. No decision, no effort is required to welcome this breath. It seems to be happening of its own accord. It might feel like something altogether new, a totally novel experience. Focusing on this new incoming breath we forget the previous outgoing breath. Experiencing the movement of air slowly invading our body we arrive at the sensation of a momentary pause, immediately followed by a counter movement with the feeling of breathing out. And perhaps for just this one breath moment we have let go of all thought. No thought of what went before, no anticipation of what might come next. Just following the breath without any running commentary. But until our concentration is unbroken, the practice of following the breath for a half hour or so can become a little frightening. We might feel like a skater on very thin ice.

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