You begin meditation by developing your skill in softening, and flexible attention. Softening is an abandonment skill, that will allow you to balance energy, and relax your relationship towards, difficulties, should they arise. Flexible attention will allow you to self-observe. It develops reflexive awareness, which is used to monitor the mind, and to cultivate insight.
1/52: Retrain Your Breathing
2/52: Softening Breathing
3/52: Skill of Softening
4/52: Grounding Awareness
5/52: Focusing Awareness
6/52: Natural Breathing
You begin your training in MIDL, by developing your skill in abandoning. Abandoning is the skill of giving up, relinquishing, letting go, and is a primary step on the path of meditation. In MIDL the skill of abandoning is developed by learning how to deeply relax, both physically, and mentally. Refining this skill until it becomes very subtle in application, you simply observe attraction or aversion arise, and soften into them. The result is a profound letting go, both mentally, and physically.
You begin developing your ability to soften by retraining any deficiencies in your breathing patterns, such as stress, upper chest breathing, that may affect your ability to settle your mind in meditation. Once diaphragmatic breathing in your abdomen, is natural for you, you then go on to refine your skill in softening, until it becomes an abandonment within the mind, rather then a relaxation within the body. The softening skill is then brought into mindfulness of breathing, to help to develop unification of attention.
What is Softening?
The ability to soften is an important part of mindfulness meditation. Softening Into, is the skill of intentionally abandoning participation through deeply relaxing. A skilled meditator can abandon attraction or aversion, through ‘softening into’ the experience. The skill of ‘softening into’ will not only deepen your meditation practice. It will also change you’re the way that you relate to life.
Softening describes the experience of acceptance, that arises through intentional abandoning. You may have experienced this during meditation. Whenever you have resisted something. Your mind reflected this resistance by becoming: hard, rigid and unpliable. Whenever you accepted what you were resisting. Your mind reflected this by becoming: soft, flexible and pliable. Softening describes the process of: turning the hardness of resistance; into the softness of acceptance.
Softening Skill Development
Softening is developed through a gradual refinement of skill. Which begins with retraining stress breathing patterns. In the beginning, this can feel quiet mechanical in nature, due to control. However, once diaphragm breathing becomes natural. All control over breathing is abandoned. Allowing the breath to flow autonomously, within your body.
This creates the perfect conditions, for mindfulness of breathing. Allowing you to negate many of the hindrances to the development of concentration, which are related to the stress response. As your skill in softening refines, diaphragm breathing can be used to abandon resistance. Initially, abandoning is applied to mind wandering such as thoughts or fantasies. At a higher level, softening is used to decondition defensive habitual patterns, from the mind.
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.
To retrain any habitual stress breathing patterns to diaphragmatic breathing, as a perquisite for mindfulness of breathing. And to lower the experience of stress and anxiety, in your daily life. To develop skill in softening your relationship towards difficult experiences that may arise, during meditation.
A significant lowering of stress / anxiety within daily life as well as defensive reactions and emotions. Noticeable weakening of the Five Hindrances to Meditation in seated meditation as well as an increased sensitivity to the relationship between subtle changes within breathing and aversion / attraction within the mind.
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 2o 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.
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.
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.
To develop the ability to soften your relationship towards all experience by learning how to borrow the relaxation that is present within the deflation of each out-breath. To develop a heightened sensitivity to the relationship between your breathing patterns and your current state of mind, for seated meditation and daily life.
Through learning how to soften with each out-breath you will experience a significant lowering of stress / anxiety in daily life, as well as a weakening of defensive reactions and emotions. This correlates to weakening of the Five Hindrances in seated meditation and an increased sensitivity to the relationship between subtle changes within breathing and aversion / attraction within the mind.
In MIDL Mindfulness Training 4/52 you develop 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.
To develop the skill of mentally relaxing with the natural deflation of each out-breath. Learning the skill of calming of all mental activity such as preoccupied thoughts with past and future. Developing a heightened sensitivity to the relationship between your breathing patterns and your current state of mind.
Through learning how to soften with each out-breath you will experience a significant lowering of stress / anxiety in daily life, as well as a weakening of defensive reactions and emotions. This correlates to weakening of the Five Hindrances in seated meditation. Ability to intentionally decondition habitual tendencies from the mind and defensive emotional charge from memories.
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.
Keep the experience of your body as it sits in mind and notice whenever your attention habitually moves away from it.
To create a grounding point for your attention by immersing awareness in the different sensations within your body. To develop flexible attention and mindfulness by observing habitual movements of your attention away from your grounding point.
By meditating in this way, you will develop a sense of curiosity, mindfulness and momentary concentration. Your ability to observe subtle habitual movements of your attention will also increase. This will create a foundation for when you do mindfulness of breathing.
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.
Breathe out, relax & wait. Experience the natural breath as it draws back in by itself. Any time you notice resistance breathe out.
To develop the ability to experience natural breathing, free from unconscious control, as a foundation for mindfulness of breathing. To develop a heightened sensitivity to habitual control as it arises within the mind, through observing changes in the natural breath.
This mindfulness training develops the ability to abandon the innate tendency towards control, not only in seated meditation but most importantly, in daily life, lowering of attraction and aversion.
Breathing makes a wonderful meditation object for observing control because it can be intentionally controlled by your mind, or it happen autonomously, controlled by your brain. Breathing can be considered as happening in three ways: You can intentionally take a breath in and out, your habitual, survival mind can control the breath as in the case of stress breathing. Or breathing can happen naturally, regulated by the brain, this is referred to as the natural breath.
To decondition habitual control within your mind you simply breathe out, relax and wait for the breath to draw in by itself. Whenever you notice any tightness within the breathing you simply repeat this training until you can mindfully observe breathing free from any habitual control of your mind.
Step 1: Create Your Foundation
Take a seated meditation posture and gradually bring awareness to your whole body. In a general way start to become aware of the experience of warmth or coolness, of points of touch.
Step 2: 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. Start to notice the natural flow of breathing within your body.
Step 3: Breathe Out, Relax and Wait
Now bring awareness to the tip of your nose and gently breathe out. Relax and wait for the breath to draw back in by itself. Observe and soften any fear that the breath will not come in again. Don’t worry, if you relax your brain will signal breathing all by itself.
Step 4: The Natural Breath
When the breath draws in, by itself, experience the natural breath free from control. Its beauty, it sense-of-ease. Observe any tightness or tension that gradually arises within the breath as a reflection of habitual control. When observed breathe out, relax and wait for the breath to draw in again by itself. Rinse and repeat.
Take interest in any fear that arises at the end of the out-breath and use your softening skills to relax it. Be curious about the difference between the experience of the natural breath, free from control. And the experience of tightness or tension that gradually arises within your breathing, as your mind habitually tries to control that which does not need to be controlled.