"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

June 22, 2012

How I Work with Breath in the Body When I'm Feeling Blocked

Today, from early this morning, until around 2 pm, I really worked with the skillful means explained in a blog post at my other dharma blog, Metta Refuge.  The title of the post is "Bathing in the Breath to Heal Body and Mind," and it presents an essay by Thanissaro Bhikkhu on this very important and highly effective practice.

The work involves the meditative, compassionate working with the breath in the body—indeed, it involves consciously bathing oneself and immersing oneself and specific areas of the body in the conscious breath energy.  It's an incredibly powerful practice, in my experience, and has brought me much mental and physical healing.

This morning, when I got up, I noticed that I seemed to be "floating" -- kind of disconnected from my feelings and ungrounded.  I got to work with mindfulness of the breath in the body, and found, to my surprise, there were certain bodily areas that my breath energy couldn't reach, so to speak. (If you know how to feel the breath energy in the body and guide its movement in the body, you will know what I mean.  If not, the instructional article I mentioned, above, will big a tremendous introduction to this wonderful and highly skillful practice.)

As I got quiet with my breath and began to pay better attention to my breath and my body, I noticed that my lower abdomen area seemed blocked off from the breath energy. Since that area is powerfully linked to deep feelings, as many spiritual practices have demonstrated, it made sense that I awoke feeling rather disconnected and blocked off from feeling—from feeling alive and emotionally connected to the ground of being, True Self, Big Mind, or citta, or whatever one might want to call it.

My meditative work was to make contact with where the blockage seemed to begin—the energetic "wall," as it were—and to just patiently hold that blockage place in my breath, with my breath energy.  At the same time I was doing this, I was always bringing metta—great loving-kindness—to this blockage place. Not surprisingly, when I paid more attention, the place where I had the sensation of blockage was actually physically painful, too.  So, patiently, patiently, patiently, with each in-breath and out-breath, I just came back to the stuck place and embraced it with my full attention and mindfulness, bathing it in my breath, with love.

Sometimes, I would, so to speak, back away from the barrier, and just embrace my whole body with the breath.  As the Thanissaro Bhikkhu article explains:
"So think of yourself as totally surrounded by the breath, bathed in the breath, and then survey the whole body to see where there are still sections of the body that are tense or tight, that are preventing the breath from coming in and going out. Allow them to loosen up.  This way you allow for the fullness of the breath to come in, go out, each time there’s an in-breath, each time there’s an out-breath. Actually the fullness doesn’t go in and out. There’s just a quality of fullness that’s bathed by the breath coming in, bathed by the breath going out. It’s not squeezed out by the breath. It’s not forced out by the breath. Each nerve in the body is allowed to relax and have a sense of fullness, right here, right now. Then simply try to maintain that sense of fullness by the way you breathe. Your focus is on the breath, but you can’t help but notice the fullness."
I'd like to tell you that the work was easy, effortless, and that the barrier gave way quickly, but it was none of that.  The work today took persistence, it took right effortsamma vayama—and at times, doing the work meant being willing to be totally present with a lot of stress, mental pain, and nameless mental angst.  Sometimes, I would be able to identify the source of that mental pain, look into it, and let it go by insight into its causes and conditions, and its "not-self," impermanent nature.  But often, the mental pain's "name" (nature) was hidden from me, so I just held the pain in the breath, bathed it in the breath, holding the pain like a crying baby, with great compassion and loving-kindness.

Gradually, the feeling of blockage began to dissolve and melt in the fervent but gentle heat of right effort, mindfulness, and loving-kindness.  When I felt myself grasping or clinging at some moment of release, or disbanding of a mental knot, I noticed that the pain would come back—a clear signal of the unskillfulness of grasping at the release itself or some goal of breaking the barrier or dissolving the blockage.  Instead, I saw I had to let go of all of that—all grasping and desire to be free, or to be anywhere else than right where I was—and just be with the breath.  The attention, the loving-kindness, would do the work, without regard to a "self," suffering or not.

I did this breath work sitting, standing, lying down (though that always risks dozing off, for me!), and while doing walking meditation in my apartment. At times, my body was clearly telling me that  I need to stop and take a break.  At that point, I did stretches, some yoga poses, and some Qigong exercises.  And, I also stopped and had a little tea, preparing and drinking it with mindfulness, and paying attention to the breath so as to not lose the spiritual momentum of the work.

Refreshed, it was back to the breath work in the body! It's very important to be intuitive and listen to the body and to watch the mind for clues as to right action.  Sometimes you may need to leave the blocked area and work in other parts of the body that are more open to the breath.  Often, doing this, you may find that there were small blockages even there and you can work through them.  This success seems to energize the mind and the whole body, and you can often return to the big hurting, blocked areas with more energy and happiness and assurance.

I have sometimes had psycho-physical blockages give way quickly, but today, it tooks hours of sustained effort and concentration to clear up the feeling of emotional blockage. It was hard work! But was very good work, and there was an underlying great joy knowing that I was working scientifically, and artfully, with wonderful tools of the buddhadharma.  By early afternoon, I was able to feel my breath energy throughout the abdomen, and I felt so much more grounded and alive and back in touch with my feelings.

As I looked back over the morning's work, I thought I would share some of my experience, and the  great article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, as a help to others.  I like to hear how others work, and I think it's encouraging to hear how others in the path of awakening make progress.  I hope you've found this sharing helpful and that it inspires you to try this practice for yourself.  The blog post at Metta Refuge shares some terrific and highly skillful instruction.  Check it out!  May all beings be free of pain and know the happiness beyond all suffering!

"Bathing in the Breath to Heal Body and Mind"

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