As we’ve all been told again and again, our minds are the root of the beauty and horror of the situation we’re in. We create our reality, and it’s one thing to understand that intellectually, and it’s another thing to directly experience it. Most of us, in our education, have been trained in what to think about, instead of how to use the mind, so when we try to do a concentration exercise, it seems very strange at first, but let’s try a little of it.
Take the diaphragm in the abdomen, a muscle that moves just a little with each breath. When you breathe in the muscle goes up, rising, and when you breathe out, it falls. Let your awareness find that little place of movement. If you can’t feel the muscle moving in the abdomen, any rising or falling is useful, and bring your awareness to that little movement that’s happening. If it helps, silently say to yourself each time you take in the breath ‘rising,’ and each time you let out the breath, say ‘falling,’ but focus on the direct experience in the abdomen.
Now the mind isn’t just going to sit on the breath, it’s going to float here and there. You’ll start to be aware of sensations in your body or thoughts or sounds. When those arise, and your awareness is drawn somewhere other than the breath, notice that it’s been drawn that way, and then once again, bring your awareness very gently back to the breath.
There’s no philosophy about this, it’s a simple quieting of the mind.
You’re not trying to stop the thoughts, you’re really just trying to direct the awareness to stay with one thought, which is the one sensation, which is the rising and the falling of the abdomen. Ride the breath as if you were riding a wave or riding a horse – where it’s an intimate relationship between the awareness and the breath. So you’re aware of the beginning, the middle, and the end of the ‘in’ breath and aware of the beginning, the middle, and the end of the ‘out’ breath.
If you find yourself getting sleepy, just take a few intentional deep breaths and then go back to your natural breathing. Notice the quality of the breath. Is it short or long, is it smooth or harsh, is it a single thing of made up of many things, is it liquid or is it solid – what does it feel like?
Become a connoisseur of that tiny muscle, rising and falling, and every time the mind wanders, don’t get upset, just notice it and bring your awareness back. Just notice the way the awareness moves from the breath and flickers here or there, to the knee or to a memory, or a plan, or a thought, or a judgement. If you do this for long enough, pretty soon you’ll see the whole web of your reality written in terms of where the mind goes away from the breath, because even you yourself are just a set of concepts in the mind, and if you stay with the breath deeply enough, there will just be breath, with nobody breathing.