This is part five of our How to Meditate series in which I will explore the step of clear breath awareness. If you haven’t done the first, the second, the third and the fourth meditation exercise yet, you are building a house without a proper foundation. Please make sure to complete the previous techniques before you move on, that way you will learn properly from the beginning.
HOW TO MEDITATE: THE POWER OF INTENT
Intention is a creative force. It gives direction to our actions, it determines their quality and their results. This tutorial would be incomplete if we wouldn’t have a look at the power of intent and what kind of role it plays when exploring inner space. Here I am going to introduce you to the use of intention within the framework of this particular practice. In this article I will discuss Intention in two aspects:
1. Intention at the beginning of our practice
Intention at the beginning of your practice is determining the quality of your session. Instead do f simply sitting down for no reason or mechanically meditating away, we are filling the session with purpose and establish an uplifting driving force. It’s an inner movement that will kick off your practice session and add quality to your meditation and to your life. So let’s establish a useful intention.
When it comes to spiritual practice, I consider any intention useful that aims at unshakeable peace and/or the end of stress. As we are usually focused on establishing sense pleasures and fighting problems we have to first realize that this is a never-ending task. There is no “and they lived happily ever after”. Instead we could realize that the stuff life is made of is cyclic in nature. Solutions only make sense with problems, happiness only makes sense in the presence of pain and death only happens when we have celebrated enough birthdays. Thus problems are never-ending with the world of form.
Having truly understood we turn away from the unreliable happiness of circumstances and become more interested in finding the source of true joy within ourselves. That’s why we practice meditation! If you really feel that you want to sit down in order to find the end of all stress within yourself. If you are here because you are yearning for inner peace – that’s when you have a good intention. Now we really know why we are doing what we do – and it gives our practice the necessary power and direction to attain liberation from stress.
2. Intention during our practice
Once we have established a good initial intention we need to work on maintaining it during our practice. It has to be refreshed. We are like our own coach that is helping us to stay centered while we are on the way. All we need to do is to remember why we are doing this in the first place. Silently know: “Great! I am taking good care of myself!” or “I deeply enjoy the fact that I am allowing myself to rest!” or whatever comes to your mind.
You are doing a great job when you decide to sit down and let go of stress! Celebrate it whenever you can – also when you are feeling a bit down or aimless. Keep up the fantastic work! Your intention can be directed in any positive way. “May I be happy and well”, “May I be free from suffering”, “May I find truth”, “May I lead a meaningful life”… “May my noisy neighbor shut up” (This one is probably not very skillful as the cause and the result of such an intention is stress – haha)
HOW TO MEDITATE: SEEING THE BREATH CLEARLY
In the previous step we have learned how to simply bring our attention to the breath and know when it’s flowing in or going out. Now it’s time to ramp up the clarity of our attention and allow he awareness to remain unbroken. Knowing the in-breath from the very first beginning all the way up to its end. Watch out for the little gap – notice all details. As the out-breath starts your awareness is still with it in an unbroken way. It continuously stays with the exhalation until it find its natural end.
You get the point. It’s all about sharpening the intensity and clarity of the knower. Observe the breath fully and with great commitment to every detail. Do this until you naturally forget everything else but the breath. And here’s what’s most important to really be successful in this step: You have got to find your sweet spot!
HOW TO MEDITATE: THE SWEET SPOT
There is no deep meditation if you are not enjoying yourself deeply. Here’s where you need to search for your sweet spot, a feeling of joy and happiness that surrounds the breath. The sweet spot might appear all by itself in form of a new and strange experience within the breathing. You might also be “searching” for it and once you know it you can tune into it. Look out for any sensation that arises in the body that makes the breath feel interesting and pleasurable. This will be your guiding principle to deeper states.
If you are not interested in your breath, if you are not enjoying it, you will have a hard time with it. It will feel like you are forcing yourself onto your breath. Almost as if you were taming it in some way. Your relationship with the meditation object should be based on kindness. Relating to your breath through a sense of warmth and friendship is key at this stage. If you are battling with your concentration you are not relaxing – and relaxation is crucial. Happiness is the key and your sweet spot gives you happiness 😉
HOW TO MEDITATE: STRANGE EXPERIENCES
As we are slowly sinking deeper into the experience of becoming single-pointed, our awareness is slowly withdrawing from our senses. This will give rise to experiences that many consider “strange”. We might see colors or lights, hear sounds or have special feelings. Therefore it is important to receive qualified guidance at this stage. The experience of meditation should become more and more comfortable and pleasurable at these stages. It doesn’t feel like effort anymore and the meditator is deeply enjoying the session at this point. This is because many of our usual disturbances such as thinking, time, multiplicity of attention and lack of energy are temporarily “disabled”. The mind rests – and a rested mind is a happy mind.
HOW TO MEDITATE: THE IMPORTANCE OF A GUIDE
At this stage of your meditative journey I highly recommend seeking out a qualified spiritual guide that can help you maneuver properly through the following levels. It is important to follow someone with solid experience. Someone who has students who are having good results with their meditation practice. As long as we are still preoccupied and caught up with the world of senses and entertainment, the magic of meditation remains hidden to us. Being unable to fully empower the mind we are far from fulfillment and deep happiness. That’s why an inspirational guide is very helpful at any stage.
The way I see it: If you have the commitment and the interest to develop your skill up to this point, it is a remarkable achievement! This is the point were the “inner work” turns into “blissful progress”. Many people are reading meditation blogs nowadays. Many watch thousands of meditation videos, visit retreat after retreat in different traditions and read book after book. Only a small handful actually commits fully to a practice, follows a qualified guide and a small fraction of these guys actually attain solid results. It is my wish to inspire our readers to practice well, to practice with clarity and integrity. I love seeing that people are doing these steps diligently and well. And they are getting good results within a short time.
MOVING ON TO THE NEXT STEP?
This was the fifth step of the practice, clear awareness of the breath. Please do this particular exercise for an entire month, following the above guidelines, and let me know in the comment section below how this is working out for you. I want to know – since I wrote this article for YOU 🙂 I hope that this tutorial on how to meditate will help you to get a more solid practice of meditation, because it’s such a wonderful thing to learn! And I am very happy to be putting this out there for you.
For now there’s plenty of material to work on. We have part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 preceding this part here. If you are doing these steps well and get good results I highly recommend reading the book: “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond” by Ajahn Brahm. This book discusses all the steps and more in greater detail and will be an invaluable helper on the path.
Feel free to leave some good comments (Everybody can benefit from your skillful contributions!) Self-promotion (e.g. “I love your article. Please check this link to my own site.”) will simply be deleted. I might post your links if they are truly relevant and contribute to the readers experience though. We are open for meaningful discussions and hope that this article serves as an inspiration for you.