Breath as inquiry

 

Breath practice can also have an element of inquiry, either as a natural side-effect or as a result of more intentional focus.

Using the breath as an object of attention, attention is invited to calm down and stabilize.

In the process, I may quietly and wordlessly notice some of the dynamics around it

I usually bring attention to the sensations at the tip of the nose, but it could also be on the expansion of the belly front-and-back, the expansion of the chest, or the sensation of the cool air flowing through the nose and into the lungs.

While doing this, I may notice a wide range of phenomena and dynamics.

For instance, what is the difference between bringing attention to these different aspects of the breath? I find that bringing attention to the sensations at the tip of the nose tends to bring a sense of precision. Bringing attention to the belly tends to give a sense of relaxing and sinking down, and of fullness. Bringing attention to the sensation of cool air flowing through the nose and into the lungs gives a sense of freshness and alertness. Bringing attention to the chest may at first give a sense of tension, which is then a reminder to shift into a more relaxed way of doing it.

What is attention? I find that attention is guided by imagined boundaries and bulls eyes. When I bring attention to the sensations on the tip of the nose, it is confined by an imagined boundary, a story saying that attention should be on what is inside of that boundary, and ignore what it outside. That boundary may be small, as it is when attention is on the sensations at the tip of the nose, or larger, as when attention is on the whole belly area, and it can even be within two or more boundaries at once.

Attention seems to be awareness itself, with an overlay of an imagined boundary, a story saying to pay attention to what is inside and ignore what it outside, and also stories – to some extent – keeping track of what is happening within that boundary. Those stories may be of the murmuring kind, or just wordless images.

When and how does attention get distracted? It gets fascinated by stories when these are taken – even slightly – as true. And it also gets fascinated by the emotions that comes out of these stories, especially when they clash with my stories of what is.

In terms of stable attention, I may notice the difference between efforting and trying, a clear and alert attention, and dullness, what helps in each case, and also how the volume of each may be higher or lower.

If there is sleepiness and attention tends to get absorbed into that sleepiness (=dullness), I can explore how sleepiness appears in each sense field. I can notice the sensation aspect of sleepiness, and the image aspect (for me, an image slowly sinking). And I can explore how it is for attention to be clear and alert, even as sleepiness is there and even as the human self may fall into sleep.

I can also notice the sense of a doer and observer. Where do I find the sense of a doer? Where do I find the sense of an observer? How do they appear in each sense field? Are these content of experience, just as any content of experience? Do they come and go? What is it that does not come and go?  Am I content of experience? What happens when I am identified as the doer or observer? What happens when these are noticed as content of experience, just as any other content of experience? Is it easier for attention to stabilize?

I may also notice what happens when attention quiets down and stabilizes, in a relaxed and alert way. Is there a sense of clarity? Energy? Wakefulness? Do all of these – attention and the effects of it being more stable – come and go? Can I notice the flow? Is it possible to hold onto any of it? What happens if I try to hold onto or manufacture any of these secondary effects? What happens if they are recognized as content of experience, as part of the flow? How do they appear in each sense field? Are they solid? Substantial? Stable?

In these ways and many more, inquire can be a part of a practice of bringing attention to the breath – or any other object of awareness such as a sound or image. It can be a full and rich practice in itself, and even a complete practice.

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outline…

  • counting the breath, bringing attention to the breath (stable attention) (belly, nose, etc.)
    • bringing attention to sensation, defined by imagined boundary (bulls eye, boundary)
      • notice how appears in each sense field (sensation + images/boundaries)
      • notice how attention gets distracted into thought, when these are believed (compelling, draw attention in)
      • notice difference between awake and relaxed, and efforting, trying (clear and awake, and deeply relaxed, deepen/shift into, almost as falling asleep while staying clear and awake)
      • notice subtle + gross distraction (into stories) or sleepiness (dullness)
      • notice how attention can be on a small or wider area, or two areas (depending on imagined boundaries, where they are drawn)
      • notice the appearance of a doer or observer + how appears in each sense field (soften focus on breath, partly also in doer/observer)
      • notice what happens when attention is more stable (secondary effects + how they change, flow, always new, different – stillness, clarity, energy, insights etc.)
      • a full and rich practice in itself, can recognize all that is needed for awakening (as far as I can tell, although don’t really know)

– what is attention? how does it get distracted? etc.

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Is the target area defined by an imagined boundary? A boundary, or a bulls eye, in my world of images?

How does it appear in each sense field?

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When I bring attention to the breath, for instance to the sensations at the tip of the nose, what do I notice?

………

When I explore it through each sense field, I find sensations without a label. And also an imagined boundary or bulls eye that defines what is inside and outside of attention.

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I bring attention to the breath, inviting attention to stabilize, and in the process, I may quietly, wordlessly, notice some dynamics around it.

I usually bring attention to the sensations at the tip of the nose.

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