Two point breath meditation? Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.09.11


Comments and expansion



Today´s comment is possibly an improvement suggestion for Sam Harris´ instructions on using the breath.


This comment is a technical remark on delivery, and not on the content.


Sam Harris

Feel each inhalation and exhalation the moment it appears.

I may be wrong here, but my suspicion is that this instruction is misleading and invites mind-wandering. Why?


The mind, with Sam´s quasi-hypnotic way of speaking, will do exactly what he sais. That´s the problem.


Attention will focus on exactly two points:


  • The moment an inhalation appears

  • The moment an exhalation appears


Those are the two turning points in the breath cycle.


But then, there is also the time period during which the rest of the breathing in and breathing out occurs. Sam has not given an instruction to focus on these much longer times. Thus, if one looks closely (at least when I look closely), the mind begins to drift off during this time. It already awaits or looks forward to the next turning point. Focused attention slackens outside of the two mentioned points.


That is why the Pointing Out the Great Way retreats use the so-called "3 point object" method, or for the more advanced, the "7 point object".


The "object" in this phrase is the intended meditation-object (in this case the breath).


The three point object method of tracing the breath goes like this: you focus attention shortly on each of the following points of the breath cycle.

The following instructions are for the in-breath:

  • Point 1: when you have breathed out, and are just about to breathe in, become exquisitly aware of your whole body (a whole body awareness sensation). This is useful to stop the mind from wandering during the short pause created by the turning of the breath from exhalation to inhalation

  • Point two: during the period where you are breathing in, follow the breath and put your attention on the mid-point between starting and ending the inhalation

  • Point three: that is the point where you are just turning inhalation to exhalation. This can be a short pause again.


This exists also as the "7-point method". Culadasa too explains, that very practiced meditators manage to isolate up to 27 distinct points during each in-breath and then again during each out-breath. And, one can also trace the beginning of the pause of exhalation, the mid, and the end. Thus, one can use the "three point method" just for the pauses. It´s simply a method to come closer to individual mind-moments.


And, as attention has to be so precisely controlled, there is little space for mind-wandering (which is the purpose) during any of the elements of the breath-cycle.


So, again, maybe Sam has his own ideas behind the somewhat broad suggestion, but maybe it is just a lack of precision.


One gets an idea of the precision to which meditation on the breath cabn be refined through reading Culadasa´s "The Mind Illuminated".


For example, there are instructions how to ensure that the full attention rests on each of the breath cycles, using the power of intention.


Thus, the meditation instruction includes that the meditator should renew his intention to follow the (say) in-breath at least one time before the breath, but preferrably at multiple stages of the in-breath cycle. Thus, for every breath cycle, the meditator does a "refresh" of his or her intention to follow this particular section of the breath one or more times. This not only trains the concentration, but also the conscious use of intention.


All these fine points are if course lost in Sam Harris´ Daily 10 minute meditations. One can of course live with it, and improve, but it´s not "professional level" breath meditation.


Perhaps one does need a 400 page volume to do this.


Resources


Yates (Culadasa), J., & Immergut, M. (2017). The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness. In No Title. Hay House Uk. https://www.amazon.de/Mind-Illuminated-Meditation-Integrating-Mindfulness/dp/1781808201



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