Reflections on the Breath by Ven. Canda
Ajahn Brahm's teachings emphasize non-doing and letting go as a means to calm the will and still the mind.
For those of us coming from cultures, or even Buddhist traditions that emphasize striving, it can be tricky getting the knack of this at first, without becoming restless, zoning out or nodding off! We are so deeply conditioned to use willpower to achieve our goals, that we bring this same tendency to do and to control into our meditation.
As frequent "retreat junkies" will know, every retreat has its own flavour and offers unique insights and gifts. One of the main focuses in my practice this year was the rousing of pure energy born of gratitude, giving and inspiration that softens the ego, as opposed to the energy born of striving, generated by a sense of self.
To really allow such wholesome energies to build, (without interfering, assessing or otherwise getting in the way!), requires a subtle and pivotal shift in perception.
We GIVE to the meditation, give to the breath, by infusing awareness with the most beautiful qualities of our heart. We pour our love onto the breath without expecting that it quietens, becomes blissful or bestows anything else in return. Such unconditional giving directly counters any incentive to GET something for ME, as well as any notions of personal failure or success. Moreover, generosity is essential to the Third Noble Truth - the cessation of suffering - in practice. This includes caga (giving or giving away), patinissagga (relinquishment, letting go), mutti (freeing the mind of discontent and self-concern) and analaya (having no place for a sense of self to dwell).
We develop gratitude towards the breath. This humble little breath has been coming in and out, without our request, since birth and has never yet let us down. What a miracle it is to be alive and able to practice the Buddha's teachings!
We find inspiration with the breath. This is our inheritance from the Buddha and our Noble Teachers, who gave themselves so completely to the breath that it led them into deep states of stillness, giving rise to wisdom. We now have wonderful Spiritual Teachers to guide our practice - all because of the breath!
Using these types of reflections and perceptions enabled me to gain an important insight: that joy arises in proportion to relinquishing increasingly subtle aspects of what we take to be a self. And, unlike striving which tires the mind, the wholesome energies of inspiration and gratitude build the more we tap into their self-less source.
Ven. Canda is laying the groundwork to establish the first Bhikkhuni monastery in England. You can follow her progress on her Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project website.