18] “Breathing in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, he understands: ‘I breathe out long’. Breathing in short, he understands: ‘I breathe in short’; or breathing out short he understands: ‘I breathe out short’.
The words “he understands” are emphasized to show that you do not focus with strong attention on the breath to the exclusion of everything else. You merely “understand” what the breath is doing in the present moment. That’s all there is to this! You simply know when you breathe in long or short! There is no controlling of the breath at any time. Instead, there is only understanding of what you are doing in the present moment. If you try to “over-focus” or “concentrate” on the breath to the exclusion of anything else, you will develop a headache due to this “wrong concentration”.
Whenever you hold tightly onto the meditation object and try to force mind to “concentrate” or push away distractions, the head will develop a very tight and painful tension. This tightness or tension in the head also occurs when the meditator attempts to control the sitting by throwing down any distracting thoughts and feelings and quickly rushing back to the meditation object. This happens with “momentary concentration” as well as any other kind of “absorption concentration” technique. This doesn’t happen when you relax on the in-breath and on the out-breath.
Many meditation teachers tell their students to put their attention right in the middle of the sensation and see its true nature. This will cause a few different things to occur.
Firstly, you will develop a stronger pain and this becomes a distraction instead of an investigation. It is because these meditation teachers tell their students to stay with that pain until it goes away. Unfortunately, this can take an unbelievably long time. In addition, you naturally need to tighten and toughen mind in order to observe the sensation.
Actually, this tightening and toughening of mind is not being mindful. You begin to develop a mind that hardens itself when pain arises. It is only natural for this to happen as it takes a lot of courage and fortitude to watch pain in this way. At that time, a type of aversion is naturally developed and this hardening of mind is not being noticed as anicca, dukkha, anattā, or the links of Dependent Origination, and you are not noticing the craving which is this tightening of mind and body.
Consequently, even when you are not meditating, this suppression can cause personality hardening, and that causes true problems to arise. Without the relax step, mind has a tendency to become critical and judgmental and the personality development of the meditator becomes hard.
Many people say they need to do a Loving-Kindness retreat after doing other types of meditation because they discovered that they do and say things in daily life which are not so nice to other people. When this happens, there appears a question, “Is this really a type of meditation technique which leads to my happiness and to the happiness of others? If the answer is yes, then why do I need to practice another form of meditation to balance my thinking?”
Eventually you are able to suppress this aversion by practicing “concentration”, which is considered to be the “correct method” by most meditation teachers. But the method taught by the Buddha was never to suppress anything. His method was to keep mind open and relaxed, and to allow everything that arises in the present moment.
Thus, whenever a painful sensation arises in the body, you first recognize that mind’s attention has gone to the sensation and you begin to think about that feeling. You then let go of any thoughts about that sensation, open mind and let go of the tight mental fist that is wrapped around the sensation, or you can let the sensation be there by itself without any mental resistance or aversion to it. This is done by telling yourself, “Never mind, it is alright for this pain to be there.”
Next, relax the tightness in the head … feel mind expand and become calm … then smile and re-direct mind’s attention back to the object of meditation, i.e. the breath and relaxing on both the in-breath and the out-breath.
If you get caught by thinking about the sensation or pain, the sensation will get bigger and become more intense. Eventually, you can’t stand it anymore and you feel like you have to move. This thinking or internal verbalizing about the sensation and wishing it would go away is the “ego-identification” and the very beginning of craving and clinging. This getting involved with, … trying to control, … fighting with the sensation, … resisting the sensation etc., is only fighting with the Dhamma, which is the Truth of the present moment.
Whenever you fight and try to control or harden mind to the “Dhamma of the present moment” you cause yourself undue suffering and pain. Another way of fighting with the Dhamma is by taking the sensation personally and trying to control feeling with your thoughts. This worsens the pain and, as a result, it hurts even more. Thus, you must learn to open and lovingly accept the present moment without that “ego-identification” and the thinking or internal verbalization about it, or taking it as “I am that”.
By letting go and relaxing, then smiling, this is how you gain calmness and collectedness of mind as well as equanimity, full awareness, and mindfulness. The Buddha taught us three kinds of actions while meditating or during our daily activities. They are,
“Love Where We Are At…
Love What We Are Doing in the Present Moment…
and Love Who We Are With”.
These simple explanations allow you to be completely accepting of the present moment. “To Love Where We Are At” means to accept the fact that when you are sitting in meditation, things are not always like you want them to be.
To “Love What We Are Doing” means to open up mind and allow whatever arises in the present moment to present itself without our getting attached to it (craving) or criticizing ourselves for not being as good as we think we should be.
A good acronym for this is “DROPSS”, which means “Don’t Resist Or Push. Soften and Smile”. Whatever arises, do not resist or push. Just soften into it and smile, open mind and accept it. In other words “Love What We Are Doing”.
To “Love Who We Are With”, means to love yourself enough so that you see and let go of all kinds of attachments which cause pain to arise in your body and mind.
The recognition that you cause your own suffering is a major realization. When you truly love yourself, you will see the pain and sorrow and lovingly let it go, then relax and smile. This is done by letting go of the thinking. Thus, you will eventually let go of the attachment (craving) and the ego-identification with it.
“He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body’; he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body’.
This part of the sutta means that you know when the breath is starting and stopping on the in-breath, then relax. You don’t have to over-focus mind or “concentrate” on the breath, or take this breathing as the object of extreme “absorption concentration”. You simply know what the breath is doing in the present moment and relax on both the in-breath and the out-breath. Your mindfulness is sharp enough to know what the breath and relaxing is doing at all times, without controlling the breath in any way.
Just let the breath and relaxing become a natural process!
“He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in tranquilizing the bodily formation’; he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out tranquilizing the bodily formation’.
This simple statement is the most important part of the meditation instructions. It instructs you to notice the tightness which arises in the head with every arising of a consciousness and to relax that tightness while on the in-breath and the out-breath. Then you feel your mind open up, expand, relax, become tranquil. And then you smile.
This process occurs because there is a membrane that is wrapped around the brain called the “meninges”. This membrane tightens every time a thought, feeling, or sensation arises. Every time you see that mind is distracted away from the breath and relaxing, you simply let go of the distraction by not keeping mind’s attention on it, then relax the tightness in the head or brain, feel mind become open and expanded. Feel it become relaxed, calm, and clear.
Next, you softly smile and re-direct mind’s attention back to the breath. On the in-breath relax, feel it expand and become calm. On the out-breath relax, feel the meninges expand, feel mind become alert, and pure. In this way the tension in the head (meninges, brain) and mind gently goes away.
For example, when a thought arises, just let the thought go. Don’t continue thinking, even if you are in mid-sentence. Just softly let go of the thought. If the distraction is a sensation, firstly open mind and let go of the aversion to the sensation and relax the tightness caused by that distraction. Then feel open and expand before smiling, and then re-direct mind’s attention back to the breath and relaxing. This opening up, relaxing, and letting go of the tightness in the head is actually letting go of the subtle “ego-identification” (craving), which attaches itself to everything as it arises.
Thus, in this way, when you let go of this tension, you are actually letting go of all craving and ignorance which causes rebirth. This is the actual experience of the “Third Noble Truth” or the cessation of suffering.
Many times a teacher of “absorption concentration” will tell their students that this last part of the instructions means that you become tranquil when you focus mind’s attention just on the breath. But, this is not the way this is to be read. The Pāli presents us with the word “pas’sambaya”. This word is interesting because it can be a verb, an adverb, a noun, or an adjective. Words which precede it or follow it change the meaning of this word. The words before this state “He trains thus”. This means that this Pāli word is an “action verb”. This makes sense because you are relaxing (letting go of subtle craving) in the body and mind on both the in-breath and the out-breath.
When you follow this sutta’s instructions, this small step of relaxing in the instructions actually says that when you meditate, you are not strongly focusing just on the breath itself to the exclusion of everything else. You are using the breath to remind yourself to relax on both the in-breath and the out-breath. This changes the entire meditation, moving it away from “absorption concentration” and instead to developing the TWIM!
When the meditation instructions here are followed closely, there will be no “sign” (nimitta) arising in mind. A nimitta is a kind of mind-made object, which arises when one is practicing “absorption concentration meditation”. In the practice of TWIM, the mind naturally becomes calm and your understanding of “how” mind’s attention actually moves continues to develop. This also means that you will be able to discern how the links of Dependent Origination occur and this is where deep insights and understanding really happen.
You need not “try” to force mind to stay on the object of meditation through strong concentration, which can cause tension and pain (craving) in the head and body. Eventually you begin to realize the true nature of all phenomenon as being impermanent (anicca), unsatisfactory (dukkha), and not-self (anattā) as well as beginning to see for yourself how the impersonal process of Dependent Origination occurs.
Thus, when you practice TWIM, you are aware of the in-breath, and at the same time of the relaxation of the tension caused by craving in your head because of the tightening of the meninges, the membrane around the brain, and you feel this tightening in your mind as well. You are also aware of the out-breath and again, at the same time, of the relaxation of the tension in the head and mind.
Please use the breath as your reminder to relax all tightness because then you are letting go of the craving, which always manifests as tension and tightness in both mind and body.
This is actually an incredibly easy practice and a simple way to develop mind. It is alright if you happen to miss one in-breath or one out-breath at first. You should not put unnecessary pressure on yourself or criticize yourself. This might cause you to think how difficult this practice is. It does take some getting used to before your practice becomes proficient. Thus, if you occasionally miss the in-breath and relaxing, or an out-breath and relaxing, just let it go and catch the next in-breath or out-breath. Simple and easy, isn’t it?
At first, the breath may seem to be very fast and difficult to notice. However, as you continue with your practice, the meditation becomes easier and you will not miss the in-breath and relaxing or the out-breath and relaxing that much. After all, this is a gradual training. There is no need to put undue pressure on yourself, so have fun and smile more. This is the way to gain the fastest results. Please remember that the Buddha teaches us to have a happy wholesome uplifted mind all of the time! Simply relax into the meditation and smile. Smiling is a way to have an alert uplifted mind!
When you practice TWIM, the breath does not become subtle and difficult to observe. If this happens, then the meditator is “concentrating” too much on the breath and not smiling enough. Also, the tightness in the head is not relaxed enough. If the breath seems to disappear again, the meditator is focusing their “concentration” and not tranquilizing mind enough.
The jhānas (meditation stages of understanding) will appear by themselves as mind becomes calm and peaceful. You do not have to push, force, or “concentrate with a fixed mind”. Actually, the Buddha taught this most natural form of meditation to work for every type of personality or individual.
19] “He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing joy’; he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing joy’.
This refers to the attainment of the first two jhānas (meditation stages of understanding). The description of these stages is a set formula that is repeated many times in the suttas.  We will now look into the description of these first two jhānas as found in the Anupada Sutta:
3] “Here, Monks, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, …
When you start your meditation session, you first close your eyes. This is being secluded from the sensual pleasure of seeing. Whenever a sound distracts mind, the instructions are to let the sound be there by itself, without thinking about whether you like the sound or not. Simply let the sound go. Let go of the mental fist around the sound. Relax the craving or tightness in the head and feel mind become calm and at ease. Now smile and redirect mind’s attention back to the object of meditation, i.e. the breath and relaxing. Relax the tightness in the head, feel mind open up, expand, and become tranquil. Smile, and on the in-breath relax the tightness in the head, on the out-breath feel mind become alert, peaceful, and pure because there is no more craving in it. You stay with the breath and relax the tension in mind until the next distraction appears by itself.
As a meditator you do this with smelling, tasting, bodily sensations, and thoughts or any kind of sensual pleasure, which distracts mind’s attention away from the breath and relaxing.
Whenever there is a distraction at one of the sense-doors you simply and softly let it go, relax that mental fist around the distraction, relax the tightness in the head, feel mind expand, and redirect mind’s attention back to the breath and relaxing again. It doesn’t matter how many times the sensual pleasure arises. You have to allow it to be there every time it arises. Just remember to let it go, relax the tightness in the head, feel mind expand and smile, then come back to the breath and relaxing.
secluded from unwholesome states, …
When mind’s attention is distracted from the breath and relaxing, and it begins to think about a feeling that arises, then there is a tendency for mind to like or dislike that feeling. This thinking about and trying to control feeling by thinking about what arises, causes the feeling to get bigger and more intense. Thus, more pain arises.