Going beyond conceptions of the breath

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This topic contains 7 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Darlene T 6 months ago.

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    Alex K

    I just wanted to share this experience Im having with attending to the meditation object (breath sensations) either at the nose or throughout the body (stages 5/6).

    I’m finding that particularly in the body scanning method it really highlights for me a ‘need’ to conceive of the breath sensations as having particular characteristics (warm, cool, ragged, smooth, fast, slow, vibrating etc) in order to be able to sustain attention on them. As I try to discern more details and attend more closely I find that I can’t recognise what I’m actually attending to and it becomes fuzzier/more uncertain and I sometimes lose the breath sensations without the support of naming/conceiving them.

    I have also played with the elements (earthiness, watery, temperature, wind) practice whilst doing the body scanning but it seems to me that is substituting one kind of conceiving for another although I found helpful in discerning what is breath (wind) as opposed to what is an earthy or fiery sensation.

    In the TMI book it says: “Observe the sensations associated with the in-breath and the out-breath. Focus as much as you can on just the sensations themselves, rather than on the concepts of “expansion,” “contraction,” “skin,” “breath,” “air,” and “movement.”

    How does one go beyond conceiving but still maintain and increase stable attention?


    Philip R

    Thanks for this, Alex.

    I have also played around with this over past months. I feel myself that the only worthwhile way is practise, practise, practise. My experience is also that it’s helpful to practise this same ‘skill’ in daily life. Even for a few seconds. I sometimes stop and listen, or look, and see something for just itself, rather than giving it a name. Often it has to happen in reverse. I hear a sound, and the thought follows…(loud, car, fast), but then I stop and hear it again, just for the sound, nothing else. Observing how I’m seeing or hearing is the trick.

    If my mind is in a spacious, fairly receptive, empty state, then I find this is then easier to do.

    As far as sustaining it is concerned, I feel that the sustaining element isn’t to do with the fact of whether we’re ‘labeling’ or not, but rather whether the mind is staying ‘open’. The ‘labeling’ is a thought, but experiencing sensations without thought comes from a quiet mind and as long as the mind is still, time doesn’t come into it. There’s simply the sensations, just felt sensations, speaking for themselves and not wanting to be ‘boxed in’ by a descriptive label.

    Best wishes,



    Alex K

    Thanks for your input Philip. For myself I don’t think I am particularly in touch with the tactile sensory experience of being in the body beyond conditioned concepts. So this is new territory Im exploring.


    Andre B

    Our minds are muscles and in a sense integrate our previous experiences. If we have used labeling in the past then the mind will likely continue to label experiences even if there is not a conscious intention to continue to do so. So can we hold the activity of mind, the labeling, lightly? Can we in a sense hold an awareness of this activity while setting an intention to be aware of the sensations? As TMI discusses there is generally a degree of pre-processing of phenomena prior to the projection into consciousness. As wonderful it is to read about the progression of how the perceptions of the physical sensations themselves may change through the development of mindfulness, I find that this can also create a sense of expectation of what we “ought to be feeling”, or that somehow what we are experiencing is not in line with reality. This expectation is something we can note in our practice “oh it is just this expectation of what I ought to be feeling being known” or simply “expectation” perhaps we can gently set the intention to notice whatever is being experienced at the nostrils, regardless of the degree of processing of these sensations. Hold the intention lightly and explore in a curious way what that may mean. Moving from this place of “I’m seeing the reality of actual sensation” or “I am not seeing the reality of the actual sensations” and stepping into the place of not knowing of wonder.


    Maria L

    Hi, Alex & Philip.

    I tend to agree with Philip: it’s practice.

    When I bring my attention to the sensations in the body, I focus on all the pleasurable sensations and the peace of mind that seems to emerge. At one point, my attention just seemed to get ‘glued’ to the breathing sensations. It just happened, out of the blue.

    Even if very useful at earlier stages, I actually found labelling getting on the way at this point.



    Alex K

    Thank you Andre. Very good points to consider. The activity of labelling/conceiving then becomes part of metacognitive introspective awareness.


    Alex K

    Thank you Maria.


    Darlene T

    Interesting conversation and helpful responses. As progress into deeper meditation takes place I tend to go with knowing or recognizing without the labeling…just as in experiencing any element… the rush of heat, or the feeling of air movement against the skin, we feel it and know it as it is experienced, as was suggested in different words in some prior responses.

    This leads back to “piti” experiences. I know they are referred to often as mental events…I can’t quite say I understand why as they often are profoundly sensational physically, as well as various appearances of colors and other (mental) visual formations prior to the calming into sukkha. I treat these in the same way…

    Our subtle feeling reactions to these experiences take us into the dependent origination loop and hindrances that we can become aware of..releasing any contraction that results helps us deepen and move through the stage. Best wishes…

    Darlene T (Teacher in training)

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