Conceptualising the breath

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This topic contains 9 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Pat Arp 9 years, 3 months ago.

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    Paul Rimmer

    I have a question regarding how I sometimes conceptualise the breath. When I follow the breath, and at a time when my attention is uninterrupted and calm (and even before this), my mind inclines towards perceiving the in/out breath as being linked in an ever increasingly smooth wave/ribbon. I know this isn’t the case, and that it is just a fabrication. When I follow it, the ribbon increases rapture/joy and takes on a brilliant golden light. However, after reading The Magic of Mindfulness, I’m worried that I should only be focusing on the ‘actual’ sensations around the lip (or body if that’s the focus), and increasing my ability for peripheral awareness? Is the ribbon something I should to cultivate, or leave it alone in favour of the latter approach?

    Also, I live in the UK so, unfortunately, coming over for a retreat isn’t practical. I was wondering if anyone knew of a similar meditation style to that of Culadasa’s (so that I can go on a retreat)? I’m thinking the Thai Forest Tradition?

    Many thanks for your time.




    Hi Paul

    During the early Stages it’s fine to do whatever helps you follow the breath – counting, thinking “in breath, out breath”, or visualizing the breath. In terms of visualizations, you want the visualization to remain connected to the breath sensations rather than becoming disconnected from the breath. In other words, you want the visualization to help you focus on the actual breath sensations (at the tip of the nose, just above the lip, wherever) rather than become its own object of attention. So if the “rapture” and “golden light” is taking you away from the actual sensations of the breath, I’d suggest “reconnecting” it back to the breath sensations.

    Of course, if it’s the onset of the luminous jhana, which would indicate a much more advanced Stage, then there would be another set of instructions.

    But assuming it’s not, recall that attention tends to spontaneously move to interesting or novel objects. Golden ribbons and rapture sounds wonderfully exciting, novel and interesting! And I think you should enjoy these experiences! But also remember that part of meditative training is about developing stability of attention. That means, you want to cultivate intentional movements of attention rather than the usual spontaneous movements. Thus, the other option is to simply keep the joy and rapture and golden light in peripheral awareness, and keep focusing closer on the breath sensations.

    Hope this helps



    Paul Rimmer

    Hi Matthew

    Many thanks for reply. It was certainly helpful, although do you mind if I clarify the question further?

    I’m not sure I’m becoming disconnected from the sensations of the breath as such (but this has given me something to investigate), rather, more concentrated in watching the continuous in and out so that they blur together. The more concentrated I get, the more smooth and swirly it gets (until it takes on a visual golden ribbon quality). However, I’m not concentrated on the sensations arising and passing away as I am when I do Mahasi style noting, where I keep the pin prick sensations on the lip more in focus (or whatever other sensations are taking part in the breath).

    This ribbon effect is something that arises by itself, rather than me purposefully creating it, although I have formed deep psychological connotations with the waves/swirls/ribbon and sensations of bliss and beautiful (as well as being somewhat inherent it seems). The sensations themselves become beautiful, and I’d have to switch to breaking them up to stop this feeling.

    Unfortunately, I can’t be 100% certain to the stage I’m at as I haven’t settled back into this style after switching back from Mahasi. My practise has been characterised by switching between these two (as well as very on/off), something I’m hoping to change by sticking to this style. I think I spend most of my time around stage 6, but with ups and downs.

    So, do I want to break-up/keep the breath from getting too smooth and continuous? Or, from what I took from your last paragraph, let them happen sometimes, but keep developing attention as I have been doing and try to keep the bliss in the background?

    I hope all that makes sense?

    Again, thank you for your time.



    Paul Rimmer

    Sorry, importantly I don’t get the glow anywhere near as often as the more general beautiful sensations. Which may mean it’s an reflective spike?


    Hi Paul,

    The mantra I’ve learned from Culadasa that I’ve found very helpful no matter what happens in meditation is, “let it come, let it be, let it go.” Let whatever happens, happen – don’t suppress or engage it, no matter how fantastic or dreadful. You don’t need to do anything, just let whatever’s happening run its course. When it goes, it will go. In the meantime, just continue practicing.

    More directly to your last point, I’d say, no, you don’t want ” to break-up/keep the breath from getting too smooth and continuous”. “You” don’t want to do anything. Just let it unfold. You can let it unfold in peripheral awareness and keep focused on the breath. Enjoy it, let it fill awareness, and continue practicing with attention on the breath.

    Another option is to actually turn your attention to and explore the ribbon, the bliss, and everything else that happens. But I’d only do that if I set my intention at the beginning of the sit. In other words, make a conscious intention to investigate the event. Then, start on your breath, and as the ribbon and bliss kick in, feel free to explore.

    That’s what I’d do. But others might have different advice.

    Good luck


    Pat Arp

    Helloe Friends. I am new to the Community & have enjoyed reading the various helpful conversations. Reading this thread, I encountered a term that is new to me. Please, Matthew, what is the “ribbon” you refer to? Thank you.


    Tim Clark

    Basically, the ribbon is a distraction.


    Pat Arp

    Thanks, Tim.


    Paul Rimmer

    Many thanks Matthew, that’s really helpful.

    Pat Arp, the ribbon is just one of the ways I conceptualise the flow of breath when it becomes extremely smooth. I don’t sit thinking about it, it’s just an image or thought that arises briefly at this point, and that comes to mind when I’m reviewing the sit after I’ve finished.


    Pat Arp

    Got it. Thank you, Paul.

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