One reader commented on the previous post:
I am curious as to what you mean when you say “know the breath with the body” rather than the mind. Isn’t the mind involved in knowing at some point? Do you have some suggestions as to how to accomplish this?
When we sit down to meditate, we are not simply thinking, we are cultivating a different kind of attention. It’s not the furrowed-brow counting out of in-breaths and out-breaths, but a sort of gate-keeper attention that is noticing people (breaths) coming and going without accosting them. Relaxed and alert is what we’re after.
Daniel Kahnemann, in his excellent book Thinking Fast and Slow, describes two types of thought: System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.
– from chapter 1 of Thinking Fast and Slow
It’s almost the same as “right brain” vs. “left brain” thinking. Left brain is more focused, more effortful, and targets getting a particular outcome. Right brain thinking is more stream-of-consciousness, more intuitive, more open.
In meditation, we need a balance of both types of thinking – System 2 to set our intention and to place and hold the awareness on a particular object, and System 1 to notice what’s happening without interfering and without building a story around every thought.
A relaxed and alert attitude is open to all the senses. Most of us favor our thoughts over our other senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch). In meditation we can adjust our attention to be alert to all of the senses more equally and more immediately, one breath at time. If we stay in the present, there’s no time for internal storytelling because our senses are providing a continuously changing object of attention. As soon as we start reacting to our intimate sense-experience, we are caught up in reactions and we miss the next moment of direct experience.
If there’s too much System 2 thinking, we get tense and tired. If there’s too much System 1 thinking, our minds drift aimlessly. Learning to meditate is, at least in part, learning to balance these two types of attention.
Cultivating this balanced attention takes patience, which is why we call meditation a practice. It’s a never-ending practice because every moment’s experience is new. We never arrive at a fixed destination; our destination is the flow of direct experience.