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You follow the breathing, very simply. Particularly pay attention to the outbreath. Go along with it. Donít particularly try to feel the temperature of the breath in your nostrils or anything like that. Just breathe out, and as your breath goes out, you go out with your natural breath, very simply, extremely simply.

In terms of the staircase you are building, it requires enormous precision and enormous subtlety to build these steps. That is related to working with the out-breath. Thereís a general sense that youíre there. You are not trying to become frigid or rigid and solemn about the whole practice. You are simply being there. When you sit, you actually sit. Thereís no room for speculation. You sit. You actually sit. You actually do breathe. The sense of simplicity is almost to the level of naivete. You do things completely, wholeheartedly. You do things as they are. You actually get into things as they are, completely, correctly.

Your breath goes out and dissolves into the atmosphere, the space around you. Donít try to follow it out too far. Let it be. Then, thereís a gap, some uncertainty maybe, and your breath comes in automatically, as a natural physiological function. At that point, donít try to bring your attention back into your lungs and your body particularly. Just let it be, let it drop. So your attention is dropped, your breath is coming into your lungs, and then another breath goes out and you go out with it again. Itís very simple. There should be a sense of simplicity to the whole thing.

While youíre meditating, all kinds of thoughts arise: thoughts about your life, your future plans, conversations with your friends and your relatives. All kinds of things come through the mind. Let them come through. Let them just come through. Donít try to say whether they are bad or for that matter whether they are particularly good. Just let them come through, as simply as you can. By letting them come through, you find that thereís a sense of openness. You donít find your thoughts threatening or particularly helpful. They just become the general gossip, the traffic of your thoughts. If you live in a city, you hear the traffic coming through your windows: there goes a motorcycle, there goes a truck. There goes a car, and then thereís somebody shouting. At the beginning, you might get involved in or distracted by the noise, but then you begin to think, so what? Similarly, the traffic of your thoughts and the verbosity of your mind are just part of the basic chatter than goes on in the universe. Just let it go through.

Whether you sit and practice alone or in a group situation doesnít make any difference. If you find it difficult to meditate and want to stand up and walk out of meditation, the group situation does help you not to chicken out. It also provides a sense of fellowship.

At the same time, whether you are sitting in a group or physically alone, you are always sitting alone. You might have been told that even if you donít have a solid commitment to meditation, the good vibrations in the room will pick you up. The energy will uplift you in any case. But thatís not possible. The sanity that one person experiences in the sitting practice of meditation is not transferable. That kind of cosmic hitchhiking doesnít exist. Everybodyís in their own little vehicle, which is called a body. Thereís no room for anybody else in that particular body. Everybody has their own car, their own body, so that in fact you canít hitchhike. You need to acknowledge that, and the sooner, the better, because then you wonít have unrealistic expectations. You will realize that you have to pull yourself together, rather than waiting for somebody to rescue you.

Sitting practice is independent and individual and a very lonely journey. Aloneness is the basic point. Whether you sit in a group or individual situation, there is a sense of loneliness. Sometimes you might feel completely isolated and cut off in your experience. But sometimes you might experience this aloneness as the basis of heroism. In the positive sense, you are making a journey, and nobodyís telling you to make this journey. You are making the journey alone. The only help that somebody can give you is to tell you that others have made this lonely journey and that you could do so as well, in the same way.

This might seem like a very severe process, very strict. But it is very cheerful, because thereís a sense of conviction that you arenít going to hitchhike; you are going to do this yourself. There is a powerful sense of celebration in this, which is the heart of the practice of meditation. The sitting practice of meditation is the expression of celebration, rather than falling into a trap or imprisonment. You no longer have to go through exaggerated sociological, psychological, or bureaucratic trips that we create for ourselves. You could get into the practice simply and directly, starting with the breath. Get into it, simply go along with it, and work with it. Thatís the basic point of shamatha.

Having done that deliberate practice of relating with oneís awareness, simply and directly, without question, then you begin to relate to sound, smell, sight, and every experience that you have in the sensorial world with exactly the same awareness. You see things simply and directly. Youíre with them and with your breathing. Youíre simply there, very simply and very directly there. There are no interpretations: Is this going to be good enough? Am I making mistakes? No such questions arise if you are being simple enough. The questions come from looking, questioning, lying back, analyzing, trying to make sure. Questions only arise on the basis of how to secure your basic ground as ego. If there is no ego-oriented question, there are no other questions. Instead, your practice is a statement, somewhat. It is extremely direct and deliberate. The basic point of shamatha is this sense of deliberateness. You are actually doing something. You are getting into this particular process, without making sure that what youíre doing is okay. Things are actually taking place almost of their own accord, very simply and directly. That is meditation.

From the March 2012 Shambhala Sun magazine. Click here to browse the entire issue online.

Photo courtesy of Shambhala Archives.

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