The first instruction for establishing Mindfulness is to know the body, and it begins with focusing on breathing. Even though it’s an essential part of our life support system, we normally give very little attention to the breath, unless there is a problem with it.
As we focus on breath, we shift our primary identity away from dramas of the mind, into the substratum of life itself–everybody breathes.
The instruction is to know viscerally the quality of the simple sensations of in and out breaths. We allow breathing to follow its own nature, and simply see how it is. That flies in the face of our lifelong conditioning to control, direct and orchestrate everything. We learn the art of surrender, central to Dharma practice. Learning to allow the breath to unfold naturally, we grow able to surrender to other aspects of experience not within our control: we learn to let feelings be, let mind be. Gradually, we let whatever arises transform itself—“self liberate.”
Sometimes the breath is deep and smooth, profoundly relaxing the whole body; other times, so short and pinched, hurried and agitated, that the mind and body are restless and uncomfortable. As we practice, we realize breath is a psychic barometer on which awareness has an extremely powerful effect. We may see anger or worry arising; the heart pounds, the body grows tense; but if we can be with breath for a while—not suppressing emotions—everything can change. The mindful mind grows calm. As breath goes, so goes body. And body has a profound effect on mind. With our minds, we make the world. Attention to breath has tremendous consequences.