Step Five: Mindfulness (Attention)

“May I Be Focused and Mindful Through Breathing”

In many spiritual traditions, subtle breath is equated with spirit and the vital source of life. Thereare many types of meditations on breathing and these can be used for healing, stress reduction, physicalstrength, tranquility, equanimity, one-pointed concentration, transcendent states of consciousness, unity with the divine, and for emptying the obstacles to wisdom, compassion, and freedom. Breath meditations are often a prelude to deep states of meditative absorption and realization.

Breathing connects us to the interdependent reciprocal nature of all existence. For example, we breathe in the oxygen produced by plants and we exhale the carbon dioxide that plants need to survive. The microscopic living cells that compose our body are nourished by the oxygen we breathe in. And their health is tantamount to the health of our body. In this way, breathing connects our inner and outer worlds.

The mental skill called “Mindfulness” is often associated with Buddhism, but it also can be found either implicitly or explicitly in many other contemplative traditions. The term can include various attributes including the attention, recollection, concentration, and observation, each of which carry slight different connotations. The following quotes and questions are meant to stimulate your contemplation on these attributes of mindfulness and to help you create a focus on breath and breathing in a way that has personal meaning and benefit.

Poems, Stanzas, and Scriptural Passages

Below are some inspirational verses from various traditions to help stimulate your own contemplation and journaling for Step Five.

Buddhism

A bhikkhu having gone to the forest,
To the foot of a tree, or a solitary place,
Sits down cross-legged, the body erect,
And directs the mind to the object of mindfulness;
Then, with mindfulness, breathes in and breathes out:
Inhaling a long breath — “I inhale a long breath,”
Exhaling a long breath — “I exhale a long breath,”
Inhaling a short breath — “I inhale a short breath,”
Exhaling a short breath — “I exhale a short breath”;
“Aware of this whole body of breath, I breathe in,”
“Aware of this whole body of breath, I breathe out,”
“Calming the process of breathing, I breathe in,”
“Calming the process of breathing, I breathe out,”
Thus does the bhikkhu train awareness.
(Mahasatipatanasutta)

Islam

Wherever I shine the lamplight of Divine breath,
there the difficulties of a whole world are resolve
The darkness which the earthly sun did not remove,
becomes through My breath a bright morning.

(Mathnawi I, 1941-2 of Jalaluddin Rumi
translated by Camille and Kabir Helminski in Rumi Daylight)

Hinduism

Praise to your coming and your going, Breath,
Praise to your rising and your settling, Breath!
Praise to you, Breath of Life,
For both breathing in and out!
For turning to this side and to that,
Praise to all of you, everywhere!
Breath of Life, grant your blessed form
To us that we may live!
Give us your healing power!
The Breath of Life cares for all beings
Like a parent their child;
Master of all life, breathing or not.
We breathe in, we breathe out,
Even within the womb.
Quickened and enlivened by you,
And you bring us to birth!
Breath of Life, please do not forsake me.
You are, indeed, everything that I am.
As the embryo of all potential,
I bind myself to you that I may live!

— Atharva Veda XI, 4:1-10, 14, 26

Christianity

Truly, truly, I say unto you,
Except a person be born
Of water and of the spirit-breath,
They cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
(John 3:5)

Judaism

The heavens are shaped by Yah’s Word,
Yah’s breath gives life to all its being.
(Psalms 33:6)

– – – –

The Sovereign Lord says to these bones:
I will make breath enter you,
And you will come to life.
(Ezekiel 37:5)

– – – –

And Y-H-V-H, God, formed the human, of the dust from the soil,
he blew into his nostrils the breath of life and
the human became a human being.
(Genesis 2:7)

Taoism

Empty yourself of everything.
Let the mind become still.
The ten thousand things rise and fall
While the Self watches their return.
They grow and flourish
And then return to the source.
Returning to the source is stillness,
Which is the way of nature.
(Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 16)