MEDITATION SKILL 01
Retrain Your Breathing
MEDITATION SKILL 02
Learn How to Soften
MEDITATION SKILL 03
Skill of Softening
MEDITATION SKILL 04
Ground Your Awareness
MEDITATION SKILL 05
Focus Your Awareness
MEDITATION SKILL 06
Skillset 1: Meditations
Skillset 1: Purpose
It’s time to relax.
It is beneficial to begin your meditation journey by learning how to relax. Not the shallow relaxation that occurs when you are laying on a couch in front of the television. But the deep, beautiful relaxation that arises when you abandon all participation with your body, and mind. So, for the next few weeks I invite you to lay back, and learn the skill of deeply relaxing, abandoning. Be curious in regards to what it means to completely relax. Both physically and mentally. Challenge any desire that arises within you, to solve, to master, or control anything. Then see what is left, when all effort ‘to do’, is abandoned.
What is Softening?
Softening is the skill of intentionally abandoning participation through deeply relaxing. A skilled meditator can abandon attraction or aversion, by softening their relationship to the experience. Softening describes the experience of acceptance, that arises through intentional abandoning. Have you noticed this within yourself? Whenever you have resisted something in your life, your mind has reflected it by becoming hard, rigid, and unpliable. Whenever you accepted what you were resisting, your mind has reflected it by becoming soft, flexible, and pliable.
Softening describes the process of turning the hardness of resistance; into the softness of acceptance.
Softening is developed through a gradual refinement of skill. This begins with retraining any deficiencies in your breathing pattern. The experience of stress and anxiety, is directly related to the way that you breathe. This in turn affects your ability to concentrate, and develop insight. Making the way that you breathing normally throughout the day, very important.
In the beginning, retraining your breathing patterns can feel quite mechanical, because of initial breath control. But once diaphragm breathing has habituated, you can allow the breath to flow freely by itself. Because of the intimate relationship between diaphragmatic breathing, and the stress response, it can then be used to monitor your state of mind. Simply, when you resist something, your breathing pattern will change. As your skill in softening refines, it can also be used to soften that resistance, abandoning participation within your mind. At a higher level, softening is used to decondition defensive habitual patterns, from your mind. Completely uprooting tendencies.
Lying down, place fingers below your belly button. Raise the lower part of your abdomen up, to draw the breath in. Lower it back down again, to release the breath out.
You begin your training in meditation by correcting deficiencies in your breathing patterns, that may affect your ability to calm your mind during meditation. There is a direct correlation between the way that we breathe and the state of our mind. This is due to the intimate relationship between breathing patterns and the stress response. By teaching your body how to naturally breathe using your diaphragm, not only will you find it easier to concentrate, but you will also experience a lowering of stress and anxiety within your daily life.
You task is to retrain your breathing patterns, over the period of one to four weeks, in order to make diaphragmatic breathing (breathing in your belly), your normal way of breathing.
This has three benefits to your meditation practice and daily life. It will lower your experience of anxiety. It will create a basis for the MIDL Softening skill and it will aid in settling your mind as a prerequisite for developing mindfulness of breathing.
***If not sure, check with your doctor before doing this training***
Step 1: Learning to Breathe in Your Belly
Start by lying on the floor. Use a pillow under your head and a rolled blanket under your knees if needed. Place both your palms just below your belly button, fingers touching in the middle, pressing slightly inwards.
Now gently raise your fingers by slowly extending the lower part of your abdomen upwards. Then slowly lower it back down again, letting the breath out. Do this a few times. Notice that when the lower part of your abdomen rises up, air is drawn in through your nose and as your lower abdomen falls, air is expelled out again.
Step 2: Slowing Down Your Breathing
Once you have found the rhythm of breathing in your lower belly, you can start to slow down the in-breath and out-breath. It is the slowness of the movement that increases the range and strength of your diaphragm muscle. Slowing of the out-breath also helps to rebalance low C02 levels associated with stress-based chest hyperventilation which is responsible for anxiety symptoms.
Step 3: Breathing up Into Your Chest
Once you have done 20 repetitions of breathing in your belly, the next stage is to learn to breathe from your belly up into your chest.
To do this leave one palm below your belly button and place the other on the top of your chest, just below your collar bone. Start the breath in your belly so that your lower hand begins to lift. Then bring it through your lower ribs to the top of your chest.
It is helpful to push your ribs outwards a little to physically help your chest lift and open. Stress breathing lowers the flexibility of the rib cage through its lack of movement so you may need to help your chest expand in the beginning.
In-breath: belly – ribs – top of your chest.
Out-breath: relax your body.
Repeat 10 times with your hands on your body and another 10 with your arms lying by your side.
In-breath: belly – ribs – top of your chest.
Out-breath: relax your body.
Next, stop controlling the breathing, allow it to happen naturally.
Step 4: Allowing Natural Autonomous Breathing
At the end of the out-breath, allow the breath to fully go out then relax and wait. It is helpful at this stage to distract yourself from the breathing by becoming aware of the touch of your body on the floor to avoid control. Your brain will then fire a signal and take over the breathing for you. Your diaphragm will re-engage, moving freely and gently within your belly. Allow the breathing to happen autonomously in your belly with bare awareness of it.
Practice daily for 1 week (3 - 4 weeks if experiencing anxiety), until diaphragm breathing becomes natural for you in seated meditation and daily life. Natural means it occurs by itself, without your control.
Be curious, always play with how little effort you can put the breathing. While training your diaphragm muscle your aim is to be able to move your diaphragm slowly (down on the in-breath, up on the out-breath), 5 seconds in-breath, 5 seconds out-breath. In the beginning this range of movement may only be 2 seconds. The movement beginning and ending below your belly button.
This cannot be done through force but only through, gentle patient training. The biggest hindrance to retraining habitual stress chest breathing patterns is the obsessive desire to control. Observe any desire to control, it will appear as an over-effort. Relax this effort whenever it arises. Do not neglect stage 5 of training of lying still and allowing the breathing to happen by itself. this is necessary in retraining the brain in autonomous diaphragm breathing.
Breathing in from below your belly button to the top of your chest. Breathing out slowly and allowing your body to relax.
This mindfulness training, develops your skill in softening your relationship towards all experience. This skill of being able to soften is then brought into mindfulness of breathing and your daily life as a way of bringing about 'mindful non-participation'. This creates the basis for deconditioning of habitual defensive patterns within your mind. Softening is an abandonment skill that refers to turning the experience of mental hardness associated with resistance into the experience of mental softness associated with acceptance.
Step 1: Learning to Breathe in Your Belly
Seated, place the tips of your fingers just below your belly button and slightly press in. Gently lift your fingers by slowly extending your lower abdominal muscles outwards, drawing the breath in. Slowly lower your fingers back inwards again by releasing your lower abdominal muscles to let the breath go out. Repeat 10 times.
Step 2: Breathing up into Your Chest
Leave one palm below your belly button and the other at the top of your chest. Start by breathing in your belly then push your ribs out a little and bring the breath into the top of your chest.
Step 3: Physically Relax with each Deflation
As your body deflates with the out-breath relax your chest, shoulders and upper back. Feel your body become heavy. Abandon all effort with each deflation.
Repeat 10 times with step 2.
Step 4: Allow Your Breathing to Calm Naturally
Lower your hands and allow your breathing to calm naturally until it is flowing freely by itself. Breathing become gentle, still, free from control. Align your awareness with the gentle deflation of each out-breath, giving up all effort along its length. Allow your body to become heavy and your mind to become settled and still.
Practice daily for 1 week, play with how little effort you can put the breathing. Your aim is to be able to move your diaphragm slowly (down on the in-breath, up on the out-breath). This can not been done through force but only through, gentle patient training. Softening is a key skill that you will bring with you throughout the development of MIDL.
Observe the desire to control as over-effort and relax this effort whenever it arises. Investigate what it means to align your awareness with the natural deflation of your body with each out-breath. Learn what it means to give up all effort within your body. To allow gravity to balance you and the earth to support you.
Seated, slowly allow the breath out through your nose, softening with the out-breath, physically and mentally relaxing.
This mindfulness training refines your skill in the ability to bring deep relaxation to your mind and body through 'mindful non-participation'. This is done initially by borrowing the natural abandoning that occurs with the deflation of each out-breath. Through allowing yourself to mentally sink and relax.
The abandonment of mental participation than is enhanced by slowly extending each out-breath through your nose. At first this skill rests on the physicality of breathing itself, but with practice, it gradually changes into a deep relaxation of the mind due abandoning of effort.
Step 1: Breathing from Your Belly into Your Chest
Seated, hands in your lap. Start by breathing in your belly then push your ribs out a little and bring the breath into the top of your chest.
Step 2: Physically Relax with each Deflation
As your body deflates with the out-breath relax your chest, shoulders and upper back. Abandon all effort with each deflation. The key is to borrow the natural deflation of your body by aligning your awareness with the movement of the out-breath, not to control the breathing itself. Repeat 10 times with Step 1.
Step 3: Mentally Relax with each Deflation
On the out-breath focus on the centre of your forehead, between your eyebrows and extend the length of the breath through your nose by slowing it down.
With each out-breath make the breath more gentle, slow and calm. Allow yourself to mentally sink along its length of the natural deflation of the body in order to dissolve mental resistance. Repeat 10 times with Step 1 & 2.
Step 4: Allow Your Breathing to Calm Naturally
Once mental relaxation develops focus on allowing your breathing to become gentle and natural. Relax your breathing until all effort has dissolved. Align your awareness with the gentle deflation of each out-breath, allow your mind to become settled and still.
Practice daily for 1 week, Softening is a key MIDL meditation skill and all future training rest on your development of the ability to Soften into mindful non-participation.
Play with how little effort you can put into the breathing; slow down the out-breath through the nose slightly and see if you can experience the area within the frontal lobes of your brain relax. Observe how when this area relaxes all thinking stops, mental activity settles down, how softness enters your mind.
Skillset 2: Meditations
Skillset 2 Progression Markers:
Now it is time to pay attention.
When you come to meditation, you will do so with already established habitual imbalances in your attention. It is the purpose of Skillset 2, to address these imbalances before you begin mindfulness of breathing. Depending on the imbalances within your mind, some of the meditations in this section may be useful, some may not. I recommend trying each one a few times, to see if it is useful to you. You can always return later to this section, should an imbalance in your attention arise.
The accumulation of these meditative skills is known as Flexible Attention. Flexible attention should be considered as your guard, that stands at the six doorways to your home (six senses), to monitor the comings, goings, and character of all those that enter and leave. During meditation, the task of Flexible Attention is to monitor your state of mind, in terms of mental qualities, energy balance, and hindrances.
Factors of Flexible Attention
Flexible Attention contains these four mental factors:
The training of Flexible Attention is made up of meditative skill in:
Keep the experience of your body as it sits in mind and notice whenever your attention habitually moves away from it.
This mindfulness training develops your skill in grounding awareness in different sensations within your body. This is done by deliberately being aware of your experience of different parts of your body and noticing whenever your attention habitually moves away from them. Literally: whenever you forget you are meditating. Mindfulness meditation is about forgetting and remembering.
Forgetting what you are doing now, is habit. Remembering again is mindfulness. The different sensations within your body (warm, coolness, hardness, etc), have the quality of being present; now. While your mind may have developed the habit of wandering to thoughts about the past or future. By keeping bodily sensations in mind, and noticing whenever you forget them, your mindfulness will develop.
Step 1: Aware of Just Being Here
Sit down in your meditation posture and start to be aware of what it feels like just to be here, in the room. Sounds, temperature, the general feeling of your body. Keep this experience within your mind and see if you can notice whenever your attention wanders.
Step 2: Aware of Your Body
Next bring awareness to the experience of your body as it sits. Mentally feeling your whole body. Warmth, coolness, heaviness. Your whole body as one. Gradually include awareness of the touch of your hands, and the pressure of your body as it rests on the chair or the floor. Keep this experience within your mind and see if you can notice whenever your attention wanders from it.
Step 3: Relax Awareness into Your Body
Once your mind has settled down gradually relax awareness into the experience of your body. Relax into sounds, into warmth, coolness and touch. Relax all effort. As your body truly relaxes a feeling of heaviness will arise throughout. Adjust your bodies alignment with the pull of gravity then relax until awareness and the presence of your body become one.
Step 4: Allow Your Mind to Wander
Once you have created a grounding point for your awareness within your body, relax your effort to be aware and allow your mind to habitually wander. At first you may only notice that your attention has wandered after you have already been lost within thinking. This is perfectly ok. You are learning about the true nature of your mind. Just bring your awareness back to your body and see if you can notice whenever your mind wanders again.
Practice daily for 1 week or longer if you would like to refine your skill in observing the habitual patterns within your mind. You can always come back to it later. MIDL Mindfulness Training should be considered an ever-tightening spiral rather than a straight line from 1 to 52. This means that MIDL meditation development is circular and that advanced meditator's also revisit this training.
The Minds Natural State
This wandering of your mind is natural, do not concern yourself with it. Your heart beats, your lungs breathe, and your mind thinks. This is just its nature. Your task as a meditator is not to stop your mind from wandering but rather to observe it. Treat this as a game.
A game of developing your attention by trying to observe it move. A game that you cannot lose if you patiently come back to it again and again. Have fun trying to notice your attention move. It’s very quick. Whenever you find that you have become lost within thinking just acknowledge it and become aware once again. It is that simple.
As mindfulness develops, the speed in which you notice that you have become lost within thinking will also develop. Your ability to notice whenever you have forgotten what you are doing will sharpen. It is then helpful to start to observe what it feels like, now that mindfulness has returned and to reflect on your state of mind when you were lost within thinking.
This will clarify the difference between mindfulness (remembering) and delusion (not-knowing).
This is a game of training flexibility of your attention. Of observing your mind in its natural, uncontrolled state. Each time you forget you are meditating and wander off, just acknowledge it, then hit the reset button by grounding awareness in your body again.
Play with how little effort you need to observe habitual movements of your attention away from your grounding point. Take interest in how your mind moves seamlessly from periods of knowing that you are sitting meditation (mindfulness) and literally forgetting that you are meditating (habitual thinking). Take interest in how mindfulness returns either because you were distracted from your distraction or because mindfulness arises again, by itself.
Cycle awareness between the touch of your fingers, your body, then open to all five senses and back again.
To develop your skill in smoothly changing the focus of your awareness from one-pointed attention on one aspect of experience, to widening it to all your senses and back again.
By meditating in this way, you will develop the accuracy and focus of your awareness. This will develop flexibility of your attention, allowing you to self-observe in seated meditation and daily life.
This mindfulness training develops your skill in controlling the focus of your awareness, by precise movement of your attention between three different points from narrow to wide. These are: The touch of your fingers, the experience of your body sitting and the experience of your five senses. All this is done while observing any habitual shifts of attention towards distraction as in MIDL 1/52.
Awareness has the function of being able to zoom in on one experience or to open to the experience of all our senses. As meditators we intentionally develop this ability by gently changing the focus of our awareness between different grounding points.
From wide, to narrow, and back out to wide again, dwelling on each point of focus before moving onto the next. It is important to develop the ability to control the focus of awareness if you wish to develop understanding of deep habitual patterns within your mind.
Step 1: Aware of Just Being Here
Sit down in your meditation posture and start to be aware of what it feels like just to be here, in the room. Sounds, temperature, the general feeling of your body. Gently keep this wide awareness of this experience within your mind, remember it for 30 seconds.
Step 2: Aware of Your Body
Next bring awareness to the experience of your body as it sits. Mentally feeling your whole body. Warmth, coolness, heaviness, touch. Your whole body as one. Relax into this awareness with some gentle breaths. Hold this middle focus of your awareness on your body in mind for 30 seconds.
Step 3: Aware of Touch
Now bring awareness to the touch of your hands, those sensations of touch: warmth, coolness, pressure and hold them gently in mind. Narrowing awareness to the touch of one finger. Hold this narrow focus of your awareness in mind for 30 seconds.
Continue to cycle between these three levels of focus: Wide, middle and narrow. Spend time on each level of focus, relaxing any mental resistance you experience during this training.
Practice daily for 1 week. In your first meditations use the guided meditation above then learn to alternate between guided and unguided meditations. If you feel you would like to continue with this meditation longer then for 1 week then that is perfectly ok.
There is no strict time frame for this training. The important part is just to be aware if the meditation becomes habitual, if so then move on to the next training regardless of whether you have refined the skill or not, you can always come back later. It is important to understand however that habit is the enemy of mindfulness meditation.
Play with how little effort you can put into holding each of the three grounding points within your awareness. Observe your minds habitual relationship towards the change in the focus between each point. Learn what it means to relax any resistance within your mind towards intentionally changing focus between these three points. Take interest in the habitual focusing of your awareness towards thinking. Take interest in any forgetting and remembering and reflect on the periods of knowing and unknowing.
Keep the point of touch of one thumb touching the other, in mind, and put
gentle effort towards continuously remembering it.
Practice until habitual forgetting ends, and mindfulness stabilizes.
First create your posture for meditation
Sit comfortably on a chair or the floor, placing one hand within the other and resting them gently in your lap. Thumbs touching lightly in the middle, to create a point of touch. Bring to mind your intention for this meditation, to develop continuity of mindfulness. Close your eyes over lightly, and start to be aware of sounds around you, the touch of air on your skin, your body as it rests on the chair or the floor.
Step 1: Remember the touch of your hands (1 - 15 minutes)
Bring awareness to the touch of your thumbs, keeping your hands relaxed. Take some softening breaths and relax into that point of touch. Establish a stream of remembering that your thumbs are touching each other. Keeping this point of touch relaxed, careful not to clarify the touch of the thumbs by applying pressure. Just gently touching each other.
The experience of your thumbs touching is just a reference point, what is important is the continuous effort to remember them. It is the continuous stream of remembering that will strengthen, and stabilize, mindfulness. This is a mental exercise in remembering present experience, for your mind. Gently hold this stream of remembering the point of touch, within your mind, and re-establish it if you forget.
Whenever you notice that you have forgotten the touch of your thumbs, celebrate, this is progress. Be happy that you have noticed. It is the noticing that you have wandered that will break the habit of habitual forgetting.
Step 3: Remember your whole body as it sits (1-30 minutes)
Bring awareness to your body as it sits. Take some softening breaths and relax into your body to establish mindfulness. Establish a stream of remembering that you are just sitting here. Hold this stream of remembering in mind continuously, and re-establish it if you forget.
Step 4: Remember your breathing (1-30 minutes)
Bring awareness to your body as it sits. Take some softening breaths and relax into your body to establish mindfulness. As you relax you may start to feel the flow of breathing within your body. The gentle movement of the breath. Be aware of the flow of breathing within your body, as if from a distance. Establish a stream of remembering that you are just sitting here, breathing. Hold this stream of remembering in mind continuously, and re-establish it if you forget.
(Advanced) Remember out and in-breaths (1-30 minutes)
Bring awareness to your body as it sits. Take some softening breaths and relax into your body to establish mindfulness. As you relax you may start to feel the flow of breathing within your body. Remember when the breath is drawing in, and when it is going out. Establish a stream of remembering that you are just sitting here, breathing. Hold this stream of remembering in mind continuously, and re-establish it if you forget.
(Advanced) Remember remembering (60 minutes)
Bring awareness to the remembering within your mind. Establish a stream of remembering and gently hold that remembering within awareness, softening micro shifts of attention with gentle softening. Hold this stream of remembering within your mind continuously.