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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 30 Nov 2021, 19:57

Whilst sitting in meditation today I was practising the anapana-sati sutta (the Buddha's teaching on mindfulness of the breath). And when I got to the thirteenth step which trains one to focus on change and impermanence. I stayed with this step a while, and I noticed how everything both within me and all around me is constantly changing, the sounds happening outside the window, time, sensations, feelings, the processes happening within the body, thoughts, emotions, the sense of self, the weather going from rain to stillness, the seasons, the changes in the trees outside the window as the leaves fall, the air around me as it constantly moves, the breath. I wasn't really thinking much about it, but experiencing the changes directly moment to moment as I sat there in meditation. It was strangely liberating to sit there just calmly observing each moment as it changed.

The next step in the sutta is to train oneself to focus on dispassion (for the things of the world,) knowing everything is impermanent, we stop grasping for things or pushing them away, there is nothing to cling to, everything is insubstantial, illusory, even those we love change moment to moment, and one day will die and become rotting corpses, 'Everything I hold dear, and everyone I love will become separated from me due to the nature of change.' Remembering this helps one feel dispassion and equanimity for the world.

The next step is to train oneself to focus on the cessation of suffering, and then on renunciation (letting go).

The last four steps in the anapanna sati sutta make me think of the four noble truths. I have never been taught whether those last four steps are the four noble truths, but seems to make sense to me that this is what they represent, albeit phrased in a different way, but these are just my thoughts on it and I could be wrong.

I will write a summary of the anapana-sati sutta below for anyone who might be interested.

I have been taught to do each step three times, but one can do each step for longer if one wants to depending on how much time they have and how strong their attention is. But doing each step three times is probably doable for most, as ideally one wants to be able to practise the whole sutta in a single session without forgetting (losing their mindfulness), as it is a training exercise for the mind, each step has something important to teach which can become invaluable in life, I often find different steps will come up automatically for me at different times during the day and help me bring some balance to the mind.

One should spend longer on a step that proves challenging till one can at least generate a hint of what one is training the mind to experience there before moving on. For example, I find the step where one is training the mind to be sensitive to joy can sometimes be challenging for me.

For the first step (and only the first step) I have been taught to intentionally take long deep breaths. And for the second step to let go of the intentional long breaths and let the breath do its own thing, which tends to naturally become shorter in duration after several long breaths. These first two steps I have been told are preparation for the training, as the third step introduces the words one trains. I understand this is open to interpretation and I merely post this to show how I practise this sutta. The first step is the only time I deliberately manipulate the breath.

For the fifth step, 'one trains I breathe sensitive to joy' - it can be helpful to use a memory of a time you felt joy, or use your imagination to intentionally invoke the feeling. Metta practise can also help generate joy. Joy has a bubbly effervescent quality to it and sometimes it may already be present, as there can be a feeling of joy that naturally arises when one takes time out from the stress of the day and lets go of whatever is on the mind to sit and practise meditation.

Anapana-sati sutta summary:

First one finds a quiet secluded place to practise where one won't be disturbed.

Find a posture you can comfortably be in for a while.

1. Breathing in long, one knows "I am breathing in long"; breathing out long, one knows "I am breathing out long".

2. Breathing in short, one knows "I am breathing in short"; breathing out short, one knows "I am breathing out short".

3. One trains: "I breathe in sensitive to the whole body"; one trains: "I breathe out sensitive to the whole body."

4. One trains: "I breathe in calming the body"; one trains: "I breathe out calming the body."

5. One trains: "I breathe in sensitive to joy"; one trains: "I breathe out sensitive to joy."

6. One trains: "I breathe in sensitive to pleasure"; one trains: "I breathe out sensitive to pleasure."

7. One trains: "I breathe in sensitive to thoughts and emotions"; one trains: "I breathe out sensitive to thoughts and emotions."

8. One trains: "I breathe in calming thoughts and emotions"; one trains: "I breathe out calming thoughts and emotions."

9. One trains: "I breathe in sensitive to the mind"; one trains: "I breathe out sensitive to the mind."

10. One trains: "I breathe in satisfying the mind"; one trains: "I breathe out satisfying the mind."

11. One trains: "I breathe in steadying (concentrating) the mind"; one trains: "I breathe out steadying the mind."

12. One trains: "I breathe in releasing (liberating) the mind"; one trains: "I breathe out releasing the mind."

13. One trains: "I breathe in focusing on change (impermanence); one trains: "I breathe out focusing on change."

14. One trains: "I breathe in focusing on dispassion"; one trains: "I breathe out focusing on dispassion."

15. One trains: "I breathe in focusing on cessation (of suffering); one trains: "I breathe out focusing on cessation."

16. One trains: "I breathe in focusing on letting go (renunciation); one trains: "I breathe out focusing on letting go."

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