Meditation 1: Breath and Sound

Formal meditation develops our awareness of what's happening in our minds and bodies. Not only that, but it also strengthens our ability to let go of preoccupation and constriction, and return to a spacious experience of the present moment.

Meditation 1: Breath and Sound

A foundational exercise in meditation practice across many traditions is:

  • choosing an object of awareness
  • bringing our attention there
  • returning our attention once it has wandered.

Today, we'll use the breath as our object to work with. Commonly, the breath is chosen because, as my early teachers would say, you don't have to believe in anything in order to feel your breath. If you're breathing, you can be meditating. 

The point of this practice is not stopping our thoughts, but learning to change our relationship to them. Your breath can serve as the vehicle for coming back to yourself, coming back to this moment.

Resting our attention on the feeling of the breath, the operative word really is rest. Sometimes people think, "If I get a death grip on the breath, my mind won't wander." But actually it will wander more. So the breath is like home base. 

I can virtually guarantee that it's not going to be 900 breaths before your mind wanders. Maybe it will be two. Maybe it'll be one. Maybe five. But probably pretty quickly your attention wanders. You jump to the past, jump to the future, to judgment, speculation, or something else. And then comes the magic moment when you realize, "Oh, it's been quite some time since I last felt a breath." That's the crucial moment. That's the moment when we have the chance to be really different. So instead of judging yourself, or comparing yourself, see if you can gently let go and—with kindness towards yourself—return your attention to the feeling of the breath.

If you have to do that a billion times in this short practice, that's OK. That's not a sign of failure. That's not a problem. We're practicing letting go. We're practicing beginning again.

Bringing attention to sounds

To begin, sit as comfortably as you can. You can close your eyes or not, however you feel most at ease. Often, even before we get to the breath we start with listening to sounds. It's a way of relaxing deep inside, and allowing our experience to come and go. Of course, we like certain sounds and we don't like others, but we don't have to chase after them, hold on, or push away. Just let them come; let them go. It's like the sounds wash through you.

Bringing attention to the body

Now bring your attention to the feeling of your body sitting, whatever sensations are most predominant. Bring your attention to your hands and see if you can shift from the more conceptual level—like, "Oh, fingers"—to the world of direct sensation: picking up pulsing, throbbing, pressure, whatever it might be. You don't have to name these things, but feel them.

Bringing attention to the breath

Bring your attention to the feeling of your breath. The actual sensation of your in- and out-breath wherever you feel it most distinctly. Maybe that's the nostrils or the chest or the abdomen. Find that place where the breath is strongest for you. Bring your attention there and just rest.

See if you can feel one breath. 

If you like, you can use a quiet mental notation like "In, out" or "Rising, falling" to help support your awareness of the breath—but very quiet so your attention is really going towards feeling the breath, one breath at a time.

If you find your attention has wandered—if you've gotten lost in thought, spun out in a fantasy, or you fall asleep—truly, don't worry about it. See if you can let go gently and bring your attention back to the feeling of the breath

Ending the session

When you feel ready, you can open your eyes or lift your gaze and conclude the meditation.

Complete and Continue