© 1999 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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erect, without leaning forward or backward, left or right.
Close your eyes and think thoughts of good will. Thoughts
of good will go first to yourself, because if you can't think
good will for yourself -- if you can't feel a sincere desire
for your own happiness -- there's no way you can truly wish
for the happiness of others. So just tell yourself, "May I
find true happiness." Remind yourself that true happiness
is something that comes from within, so this is not a selfish
desire. In fact, if you find and develop the resources for
happiness within you, you're able to radiate it out to other
people. It's a happiness that doesn't depend on taking away
anything away from anyone else.
So now spread good will to other people.
First, people who are close to your heart -- your family,
your parents, your very close friends: May they find true
happiness, as well. Then spread those thoughts out in ever
widening circles: people you know well, people you don't know
so well, people you like, people you know and are neutral
about, and even people you don't like. Don't let there be
any limitations on your good will, for if there are, there
will be limitations on your mind. Now spread thoughts of good
will to people you don't even know -- and not just people;
all living beings of all kinds in all directions: east, west,
north, south, above, and below, out to infinity. May they
find true happiness, too.
Then bring your thoughts back to the
present. If you want true happiness, you have to find it in
the present, for the past is gone and the future is an uncertainty.
So you have to dig down into the present. What do you have
right here? You've got the body, sitting here and breathing.
And you've got the mind, thinking and aware. So bring all
these things together. Think about the breath and then be
aware of the breath as it comes in and goes out. Keeping your
thoughts directed to the breath: that's mindfulness. Being
aware of the breath as it comes in and out: that's alertness.
Keep those two aspects of the mind together. If you want,
you can use a meditation word to strengthen your mindfulness.
Try "Buddho," which means "awake." Think "bud-" with the in-breath,
"dho" with the out.
Try to breathe as comfortably as possible. A very concrete
way of learning how to provide for your own happiness in the
immediate present -- and at the same time, strengthening your
alertness -- is to let yourself breathe in a way that's comfortable.
Experiment to see what kind of breathing feels best for the
body right now. It might be long breathing, short breathing;
in long, out short; or in short, out long. Heavy or light,
fast or slow, shallow or deep. Once you find a rhythm that
feels comfortable, stay with it for a while. Learn to savor
the sensation of the breathing. Generally speaking, the smoother
the texture of the breath, the better. Think of the breath,
not simply as the air coming in and out of the lungs, but
as the entire energy flow that courses through the body with
each in-and-out breath. Be sensitive to the texture of that
energy flow. You may find that the body changes after a while.
One rhythm or texture may feel right for a while, and then
something else will feel more comfortable. Learn how to listen
and respond to what the body is telling you right now. What
kind of breath energy does it need? How can you best provide
for that need? If you feel tired, try to breathe in a way
that energizes the body. If you feel tense, try to breathe
in a way that's relaxing.
If your mind wanders off, gently bring it right back. If it
wanders off ten times, a hundred times, bring it back ten
times, a hundred times. Don't give in. This quality is called
ardency. In other words, as soon as you realize that the mind
has slipped away, you bring it right back. You don't spend
time aimlessly sniffing at the flowers, looking at the sky,
or listening to the birds. You've got work to do: work in
learning how to breathe comfortably, how to let the mind settle
down in a good space here in the present moment.
When the breath starts feeling comfortable, you can start
exploring it in other areas of the body. If you simply stay
with the comfortable breath in a narrow range, you'll tend
to doze off. So consciously expand your awareness. A good
place to focus first is right around the navel. Locate that
part of the body in your awareness: where is it right now?
Then notice: how does it feel there as you breathe in? How
does it feel when you breathe out? Watch it for a couple of
breaths, and notice if there's any sense of tension or tightness
in that part of the body, either with the in-breath or with
the out-breath. Is it tensing up as you breathe in? Are you
holding onto the tension as you breathe out? Are you putting
too much force on the out-breath? If you catch yourself doing
any of these things, just relax. Think of that tension dissolving
away in the sensation of the in-breath, the sensation of the
out-breath. If you want, you can think of the breath energy
coming into the body right there at the navel, working through
any tension or tightness that you might feel there ...
Then move your awareness to the right -- to the lower right-hand
corner of your abdomen -- and follow the same three steps
there: 1) locate that general part of the body in your awareness;
2) notice how it feels as you breathe in, how it feels as
you breathe out; and 3) if you sense any tension or tightness
in the breath, just let it relax ... Now move your awareness
to the left, to the lower left-hand corner of your abdomen,
and follow the same three steps there.
Now move your awareness up to the solar plexus ... and then
to the right, to the right flank ... to the left flank ...
to the middle of the chest ... After a while move up to the
base of the throat ... and then to the middle of the head.
Be very careful with the breath energy in the head. Think
of it very gently coming in, not only through the nose but
also through the eyes, the ears, down from the top of the
head, in from the back of the neck, very gently working through
and loosening up any tension you may feel, say, around your
jaws, the back of your neck, around your eyes, or around your
From there you can move your attention gradually down the
back, out the legs, to the tips of the toes, the spaces between
the toes. As before, focus on a particular part of the body,
notice how it feels with the in-breath and out-breath, relax
any sensation of tension or tightness you might feel there,
so that the breath energy can flow more freely, and then move
on until you've reached the tips of the toes. Then repeat
the process, beginning at the back of the neck and going down
the shoulders, through the arms, past your wrists, and out
through your fingers.
You can repeat this survey of the body as many times as you
like until the mind feels ready to settle down.
Then let your attention return to any spot in the body where
it feels most naturally settled and centered. Simply let your
attention rest there, at one with the breath. At the same
time let the range of your awareness spread out so that it
fills the entire body, like the light of a candle in the middle
of a room: the candle flame is in one spot, but its light
fills the entire room. Or like a spider on a web: the spider's
in one spot, but it knows the whole web. Be keen on maintaining
that broadened sense of awareness. You'll find that it tends
to shrink, like a balloon with a small hole in it, so keep
broadening its range, thinking "whole body, whole body, breath
in the whole body, from the top of the head down into the
tips of the toes." Think of the breath energy coming in and
out of the body through every pore. Make a point of staying
with this centered, broadened awareness as long as you can.
There's nothing else you have to think about right now, nowhere
else to go, nothing else to do. Just stay with this centered,
broadened awareness of the present ...
When the time comes to leave meditation, remind yourself that
there's a skill to leaving. In other words, you don't just
jump right out. My teacher, Ajaan Fuang, once said that when
most people meditate, it's as if they're climbing a ladder
up to the second story of a building: step-by-step-by-step,
rung-by-rung, slowly up the ladder. But as soon as they get
to the second story, they jump out the window. Don't let yourself
be that way. Think of how much effort went into getting yourself
centered. Don't throw it away.
The first step in leaving is to spread thoughts of good will
once more to all the people around you. Then, before you open
your eyes, remind yourself that even though you're going to
have your eyes open, you want your attention to stay centered
in the body, at the breath. Try to maintain that center as
long as you can, as you get up, walk around, talk, listen,
whatever. In other words, the skill of leaving meditation
lies in learning how not to leave it, regardless of whatever
else you may be doing. Act from that sense of being centered.
If you can keep the mind centered in this way, you'll have
a standard against which you can measure its movements, its
reactions to the events around it and within it. Only when
you have a solid center like this can you gain insight into
the movements of the mind.