This week in class we continued our exploration in meditation of the Anapanasati Sutta (mindfulness of the breath), this time adding the second tetrad, the Feelings Group. If you recall from our exploration of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, ‘feelings’ are not emotions but our basic response to experience as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. So as we meditate with a focus on the breath we find a pleasant experience of noticing the energy in the body and a sense of vibrant aliveness, and maybe we get excited about this. (The word ‘rapture’ is used to describe this state, but for me that word is simply too loaded in our culture.) We notice pleasure arising in our experience, and we develop our awareness of that sense of pleasure as we continue to consciously breathe in and breathe out.
But these experiences of excitement and pleasure are not all that is going on, is it? We also have a lot of thoughts and emotions that arise and fall away. These are mental processes that we note as a naturally occuring part of our experience as we continue to follow the breath. These thoughts and emotions are seductive and we likely get distracted from the breath from time to time, but whenever we realize we have been lost in thought, we acknowledge the existence of mental processes and come back to the breath.
We end this second part as we did the first by actively calming these mental processes, with the power of our focus on the breath. Just as we breathe in fresh air to create spaciousness in the body, we can create spaciousness in the mind. Just as we release tension in the body on the exhalation, we can release the tight tangle of thoughts.
The students found the instructions beneficial to their practice and I hope you do too, though it is of course much more challenging to do so without someone offering guidance as you meditate. If you’re in the area, come to class!