The instruction to observe the breath may sound too simple. A student told me today that he thought mindfulness with breathing was only a beginners practice and wanted the advanced meditation instruction. Although the Theravada tradition offers a great variety of meditation objects, including a traditional set of 40 concentration subjects, the breath is not considered preliminary or just a beginners practice. I find it is worth working deeply with the breath, exploring the mind and developing concentration with this simple object that we experience every minute of our normal lives.
Wholehearted mindful attention to this basic process of breathing brings calming, concentration, and insight. You can feel the breath as it occurs, welcome it as a refuge from distraction and agitation, carefully analyze it to understand the mind body process that occurs when perceiving a simple object, and from time to time let the mind dwell contented and concentrated experiencing deep unification with this lovely object of breath.What a versitile meditation subject!
I generally begin the jhana training using the breath as the first meditation subject. We are all breathing, so it seems natural to begin here. With the breath we direct our attention without needing to contrive concepts, colors, kasinas, or any fancy perceptions. The skills of concentration and absorption into jhana can all be learned using the breath as the object. After the method is clear and significant meditative skills have developed, I may guide students through the sequential progression of body parts, color kasinas, element kasinas, immaterial states, and reflections.
There is much to explore in the mind, and a variety of meditation practices train the mind, and help illuminate subtle aspects of reality. Although there is much to explore, the breath is quite a sufficient meditation subject. Mindfulness with breathing is not just for beginners. Explore this simple meditation subject to its depths.