Step 5 – Mindfulness
“May I Be Mindful through My Breathing”
Questions to Stimulate Contemplation and Journaling
The teachings of the world’s contemplative traditions often concur regarding the seminal importance of breath and breathing. Below, I have listed six of the mental attributes to be cultivated around the practice of breathing and focus on breath. These include: body position, attention, concentrated focus, patience, inner observation or vigilance, and recollection.
The questions relating to each of these six mental attributes are meant to help you cultivate mindfulness through breathing. Please journal your thoughts and insights as a foundation for your own meditation. Once you have established a practice around breath and breathing, you might apply the same attributes of mindful focus on other “objects” of meditation including sound, a visual object or symbol, physical movement such as Yoga of Tai Chi, walking, swimming, etc. Once you have cultivated a mindful habit through meditation, then it naturally emerges as a constant mental companion throughout all aspects of life.
Contemplation and meditation can take place in a variety of body positions including sitting crosslegged
on a cushion, sitting on a chair, walking, running, swimming, bicycling, or laying down. But if you are doing it while moving, it is essential you do so in a safe environment.
- Why is the right body position important for meditation?
- What is your best body position (or positions) to help you to stay alert, focused, and relaxed?
- Why is this position better than the others?
Full attention to the object or purpose of meditation is important in many traditions and types of
- Generally, do you find it challenging to focus your attention on one thing or task?
- Is it easier for you to focus your attention on breath, a syllable, an image, a prayer, a physical movement, and sacred symbol, or a universal truth?
- What resistance or challenges do you experience when you try to focus your attention?
- What are the sacred and secular benefits of cultivating focused attention?
- Are you willing to devote the your time and effort to cultivating attention?
- How often are you willing to work at developing the attribute of focused attention?
Concentrated Focus on Breath and Breathing
Concentration on breath and breathing is of seminal importance in many types of meditation as well
as spiritual practice.
- What does breath mean to you? Is it simply the air that you breathe in and out? Does breath have a sacred significance?
- In relation to your personal spiritual or scientific orientation, how do understand breath beyond its simple physical necessity for daily life?
- What types of physical and mental feelings or sensations emerge for you when you focus on your breathing?
- What are the beneficial effects of focused breathing on your mind and body?
- How does focus on breathing in and out help you to become calm and present in the moment?
- How does focus on breath help you to deepen and expand your life experience both in meditation, in relationships, in work, in sports, etc?
In mindfulness practice, patience does not refer to forbearance towards other people but to the inner
workings of our own mind. If we try too hard with the unrealistic expectation of quick results, the
benefits of meditation will elude us. Without patience, meditation itself can be a stressful activity.
- How do you define the meaning of patience?
- Do you find yourself becoming impatient when it is hard to focus on your breathing?
- Do you become impatient when the tranquility of meditation alludes you?
- What is the effect of impatience in your meditation?
- What method do you use in your meditation to cultivate patience?
- How would you describe the result of approaching meditation with patience rather than worrying that you won’t immediately gain the results you expect?
Inner Observation or Vigilance
Non-judgmental observation and vigilance of the internal mental and physical feelings, perceptions,
sensations, emotions, memories, and desires is the ally of focused concentration. Without inner
vigilance, our minds will wander aimlessly and our physical sensations will distract us. Distractions will
prevent us from achieving calm meditational focus.
- Why should you cultivate the capacity to observe the inner workings of your mind and body?
- What are the benefits of inner observation and vigilance?
- Are you committed to developing the capacity for inner observation and vigilance?
- How do you understand the capacity of your mind for the parallel processing of thoughts, emotions,
memory, and/or projection, along with simultaneous observation of these mental events?
- What is your experience in your attempts to cultivate inner observation and vigilance?
- Describe the quality of your observation and vigilance, your ability to notice the emergence of
mental events, and your ability to return to the object of meditation?
Mental and physical distractions often impede our continued focus on the object or purpose of
meditation. Therefore, in order to refocus our minds after inevitable distractions, we cultivate our
capacity to recollect, remember, and return to the object or purpose of our meditation.
- What is the value in being able to recollect or remember the object of meditation?
- How would you describe your internal experience when you try to remember the object of meditation, for example: your breath, a syllable, a prayer, or an image?
- How is your recollection impeded by the incessant arising of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and
- How can the cultivation of all these attributes of mindfulness improve your meditation?
- How does mindful breathing help you to achieve mental calm and focus in daily life?
Your Contemplative Practice
Please remember that the purpose of the above quotes and questions is to stimulate your writing in your journals. In your writing, please explore your own deepest personal insights as well as your beliefs that have been molded by your tradition, teachers, mentors, or role models. You might also do additional research on the internet, in books, and conversations with other teachers and students. Then, reflecting on your writings, create a brief summary that will be your contemplative focus for this step.
What type of breathing practice will you develop? How will you cultivate the attributes listed above?
As you begin this step, say to yourself with total conviction: “May I Be Focused and Mindful Through Breathing.” This is not only a prayer, but also your self-directed challenge to actualize mindfulness whether awake or sleeping. With this determination, engage in meditation to become mindful and to eliminate the negative states of mind that prevent you from actualizing the attributes of mindfulness.
In your contemplation, bring to mind the summary of your journal writings and vow to actualize these in your life. Here, in answer to our prayer, we open ourselves to the transformative power and support of the vast and untapped potential of consciousness and (if appropriate) our “higher power.”