Breath meditation has one primary goal. That goal is to use the breath as an object to occupy the mind and divert it away from discursive thought. With both practice and persistence the mind will be able to come to a one pointed focus on just the breath, abandoning all thought. With continued practice, even the awareness of the breath itself can be abandoned, allowing the mind to rest in absolute silence, but let that come once you have become proficient at maintaining awareness of the breath.
For a mind that has been conditioned to be constantly engaged in some form of thought or another, this tends to go against the grain, and thus in the beginning is a very difficult process to master. It takes a great deal of diligence to maintain awareness of when the mind wanders so that you can catch it and pull yourself back to the breath.
The process is a lot like building a brick wall. If you are not actively engaged in the work process of building the wall, wandering away, daydreaming, thinking about other things, the process of building does not occur. To build a wall you must begin with a good solid foundation, and full attention to proper placement of the first brick. Trying to place a brick on the top row before you have placed all the ones below it will quickly prove to be an exercise in futility.
With full attention to every detail of laying the first brick as straight and square as possible, it is placed upon the foundation that will support the rest of the wall. If the first brick is laid properly and each one there after given the same awareness and consideration, you will have a good start to build upon and eventually the result will be a straight solid wall.
Breath meditation is the same. Rather than being concerned with whether you will be able to maintain concentration for the entire meditation session, or if the meditation session will be "straight and solid", begin instead by starting with a good foundation. Begin with a strong intention to catch the mind as soon as you are able to recognize that it has wandered, and to pull it back to the breath. Then begin with full attention on the first in-breath only. Place all of your awareness into the details of that in-breath, the sensations, the movements, the airflow, the rising sensations. After the first in-breath has been completed, pay attention to the transition from in to out, and the ever slight pause. Then you can you begin with the out-breath, giving it the same attention and awareness. At all times, maintain concentration only on the breath at hand.
Yes, your mind is going to wander, especially in the beginning of your practice. When it does, simply bring yourself back to your task. Don't admonish yourself, it serves no purpose other than to further engage the mind. It may be useful to treat this as a game. How quickly can you catch the mind after it has wandered? Once you recognize that the mind has wandered, bring yourself back to awareness of the next breath and continue on.
In the early stages of practice you will find that the mind wanders often and far before you catch it. Like anything that is practiced, the more you practice, the better you get. As the practice continues, you will begin to catch the wandering sooner and sooner, and will eventually begin to notice the thought at the first instance it begins to arise, and being aware of it means you can simply let it pass without engaging or following it.
Just like with a brick wall, begin with a good foundation, an intention to catch yourself whenever you wander, and build your breath meditation from the ground up, one brick at a time.
|Michael L. Fournier|