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A serious student once came to a mindfulness master with a book he’d purchased. He asked the master if she would write some words of inspiration in it. “Yes,” said the master, who quickly wrote in the book and handed it back. In the book the student saw a single word: “Allow!”

“Won’t you please write more?” the student asked, handing the book back to the master.

“Yes, of course,” said the master, and this time she wrote for several seconds. She handed the book back again, and now the student found three words: “Allow! Allow! Allow!”

The essence of mindfulness is not just awareness, but an awareness that allows – an awareness that allows everything to be as it is. Whatever our experience is, we don’t argue with it, change it, try to hold onto it, or wish it would go away. We welcome whatever wants to come, and let go of what wants to go. We don’t grasp onto our thoughts, or any experience. Nor do we push away or resist anything.

A Mindfulness of Breathing Exercise

In the mindfulness of body exercise you had the option of lying down. For the following mindfulness of breathing exercise, I recommend that you sit upright in a tranquil, alert posture.

Here’s a true story. Back in the 1970’s, two Americans who learned to meditate in the east returned to the United States, determined to open their own meditation center. They drove around to different towns, searching for the perfect location. One day they found some property that was promising, though they were hesitant because it was going to need some fixing up. At lunchtime they decided to picnic in a park. In the park was a monument, and on the monument was a plaque with the town’s motto: “Tranquil and Alert.” At that moment, they knew they’d found the right place!

If you remember anything about meditation posture, remember this story, and the words “tranquil and alert.”

I’m assuming that you’re sitting on a chair, but if you know how to sit in a cross-legged posture on a cushion, that’s OK too. A chair, however, is totally acceptable. I meditated on one for many years, and still do at times.

Make sure the seat keeps your butt slightly higher than your knees. This is easier on the back.

Sit on the front half of the chair without leaning against the back. However, if your muscles aren’t used to keeping you upright without support, it’s OK to lean back.

Whether you’re sitting on a chair or cushion, the most important thing is to keep your back naturally straight, and your body “tranquil and alert.” Imagine yourself as a puppet, suspended from a string coming out of the top of your head. Let your head balance on your neck as if it’s being held by the string.

Keeping your feet flat on the floor is also easier on your back, though it may feel like it takes more effort at first. If your feet don’t reach the floor, find a support for them.

Whatever posture you choose, make sure that it’s comfortable enough so that you can remain physically still for the duration of the meditation.

Place your hands on your lap or clasp them together. Breathe through your nose unless that’s difficult for you.

Close your eyes. While it’s best to keep your eyes closed to minimize distractions, if you get sleepy, it’s OK to open them. If you do keep them open, I suggest facing a blank wall. (Meditators have faced blank walls for centuries, so you won’t be the first.)

Remember:  straight back; tranquil and alert!

When you’re ready to begin, press play:

How did it go? Did your mind seem busy during these mindfulness exercises? If so, this is normal. Meditation may sometimes go like this:

You tune into the breath and observe it. Five seconds later, you’re thinking, “I wonder what I should make for dinner. Oh, the breath! Watch the breath. Innnn…ouuuut. I wonder what that bird is, I’ve never heard that call before…. Boy, that car needs a muffler! Oh, breath, watch the breath. Innn…ouuut…innn…maybe a pot roast. No, maybe I’ll heat up last night’s leftovers. I wonder if there’s any broccoli left. I wish the kids liked a vegetable besides broccoli. That’s what I’ll do, I’ll hide a new vegetable in a casserole. Then they’ll learn … oh, the breath.”

Just remember that your intention to focus on the breath isn’t the same as trying to remain perfectly focused on it. That’s a different practice called concentration meditation. In any event, using the breath as your anchor point will gradually improve your concentration anyway, even if that’s not your primary goal.

So perfection isn’t necessary. Meditation includes being aware of the breath, and getting distracted from it. What matters is your intention.

The intention to be mindful of your breathing means you’re already a success, even if at first your attention is elsewhere 98% of the time. Anyone who has ever learned to meditate has had to come to grips with the wandering mind. It’s just the way it is.

May mindfulness of breathing bring you a measure of tranquility and enhance your musical experience and progress.

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