Inviting Presence

Category: Mindfulness

On mindfulness

Mindfulness of the Body with Breathing

Mindfulness of breathing is a way to include the body in meditation, and it’s also as a way to ground ourselves bodily, moment to moment, during daily activities. Anālayo, in his book – Satipaṭṭhāna: the Direct Path to Realisation  (p.125)- writes:

In ancient times, and still today, mindfulness of breathing might well be the most widely used method of body contemplation. The Buddha himself frequently engaged in mindfulness of breathing, which he called a “noble” and “divine” way of practice. According to his own statement, even his awakening took place based on mindfulness of breathing.

To obtain a sense of the importance of mindfulness of the body, we only have to consider that attention to the presence of the body is a foundational ‘step’ in the following practices:

  • awareness and investigation of the five ‘sentient processes’ (my translation of ‘khandhas’); 
  • the four establishments of mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna); 
  • and the ‘Mindfulness of Breathing’ meditation practiced by the Buddha (ānāpānasati);
  • and, related to the first point: in general in the teachings (not only in the first foundation of mindfulness), mindfulness of the body is important in the contemplation of the earth-element, as well.

The body also figures in what the Buddha called ‘the All’; ‘that is, in the six’ channels that he said comprise the whole of our lived world (which, by the way, we moderns can expand. I write elsewhere of seven.). This is an experiential thing. The ‘bodily sense’ in this context is often translated (perhaps correctly, in a strict translation) as ‘touch,’ but this is often an inadequate term to describe the fine and intricate body-senses which are available as objects of our mindfulness. Just consider, for instance, the existence of (what we now call) proprioception; and of kinaesthesia; and also of the ‘felt sense’ (Gendlin). The importance of the body as the early or first steps in the above practices is that founding our awareness in our ‘physical’ presence gives us yogis a steady basis for the realisation of progressively subtler states of awareness; and it allows integration of these subtle, spacious states with our daily activity. So, moving ever deeper into subtle phenomena – such as the feelings, mind-states and the dynamics of suffering & liberation – does not mean abandoning the body after its initial role.
Anālayo points to one way the awareness of breathing is integrated. He points out that during the sixteen steps of Meditation on the Breathing Body [of ānāpānasati], all bodily or mental phenomena coming coming into attention:

are experienced against the background of the ever-changing rhythm of in- and out-breaths, which provides a constant reminder of impermanence. (Anālayo, p.134)

In other words, as we progressively encounter subtler phenomena in ourselves, we continue to check in with the breath and body; we transcend and include the body, embodying our realisation.

Mindfulness of the Body is Rare

The following words from Almaas ring true, for me. People that I interact with daily are centred, for the most part, in the rarified atmosphere of their imaginal world; and some cannot at all grasp that there may be a difference between how they conceive their world to be, and their actual phenomenological, lived-world of embodied experience.

Douglas Harding’s Headlessness is a classic example – people think that the little buzzes and sensate squiggles in the space of awareness are directly a ‘head.’ They don’t get that this ‘head’ is a concept, a referring thing, meant to point to the actual experience. A typical seeker’s response, to a experiential inquiry question, is to go straight to conceptual understanding.

In an interview Almaas said: “Most people live in one part of themselves. They live in their thoughts, or their emotions. It is rare to find a human being who truly lives in his body. Most people are not that interested in their bodies, not in a real way. People are interested in their bodies in a superficial way. They take baths and go running, things like that. But to actually feel the body, sense it, make it a real part of themselves, that’s a different story.”

May all human beings inhabit their bodies.


It’s been a difficult few weeks for this body – a lot of pain; yet, the mindfulness has never left me. I’m so grateful for those who have introduced me to the practice.

“If one thing, O [Bhikkhus], is developed and cultivated, the body is calmed, the mind is calmed, discursive thoughts are quietened, and all wholesome states that partake of supreme knowledge reach fullness of development. What is that one thing? It is mindfulness directed to the body…” AN.I.xxi

Lately I’ve been experiencing a lot of pain due to pressure on some nerves in my left lower neck and left shoulder – a combination of stress and osteo-arthritis, it seems – and I’ve noticed that no matter how intense the pain becomes, I can go inside it. There is nothing to inhibit me going inside the pain to investigate the nature of reality (here in the form of physical pain), except, naturally, my conditioned preferences – the usual “I want…” and “I don’t want…”

Yesterday lying belly down on my chiropractor’s apparatus, arms dangling down at the sides, the pain was particularly severe, and so I went into it and asked the question that I used to guide my child with, when, as a little girl, she had her ‘growing pains’ (or as she called them, “the hurty-bendies”). That is: “Is the awareness itself painful?”

There is the object of awareness – here, it is the pain in the arm – but, right there co-existent with that pain, is awareness-in-itself painful. I couldn’t say ‘yes.’ It was awareness of pain. On ‘its own side’ (so to speak) the awareness was simply open and accomodating of deeper and deeper layers of the pain, until the pain was energy, vibrating energy. I didn’t take the opportunity right then, because too much else was going on; with my body being manipulated by the chiropractor – but, such moments are a good opportunity to inquire into the nature of things. The matter of exactly what is the quality of ‘unpleasant’ prior to or independent of preferences, for example.

And on reflection, there is no doubt that while I was turned towards the pain, rather than wishing it away, the discursive chatter had ended, and some wholesome states bending toward awakening were present, such as: investigation of reality, compassion, concentration.

And, of course, in terms of immediate benefit, the suffering of resisting the pain was absent. Good stuff.


Through my years of Buddhist practice, I’ve come to a very different understanding of the place of the body in our practice than I had when I set out. I’m struck with how powerful this practice statement by the Buddha is:

Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will develop and cultivate mindfulness directed to the body, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.’ Thus, bhikkhus, should you train yourselves.”

I’ll post regular comments on the subject, to share an inquiry into this. And I’ll slowly collect texts – mostly from the Pali Nikayas (early Buddhist texts), but not exclusively – which support embodied meditation and mindfulness practice.

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