Tempel Smith spent a year ordained as a monk in Burma and teaches Buddhist psychology and social activism in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is currently part of the IMS/Spirit Rock Teacher Training Program.
With a wise expectation of the three kinds of vedanā, we steady our mindfulness to intimately connect with unpleasantness, pleasantness, and neutral experiences. This is the first step with vedanā. The second is to cool off the old habits of reactivity , and the third is seeing vedanā is not inherent in the objects of our attention. Vedanā arises due to contact with the 6 sense doors, and operates on its own independent conditinality. This is difficult to see in daily life, and a precious opportunity on silent retreat.
Key to all of our suffering and eventual freedom, mindfulness of vedanā disrupts our unconscious struggle to reject unpleasant experiences, crave pleasant experiences, and ignore neutral experiences. Since vedanā is a tone or aspect of every moment in the stream of our consciousness, it beocmes increasingly clear our agitation with life begins with reactivity to vedanā, and the training of a new kind of well being comes as we develop the ability to breath inside the stream with all three vedanās.
At the beginning of breath awareness practice we can feel our attention is either with the breath or distracted. As we deepen out faith and dedication to mindfulness of breathing we learn to breath in and breath out in all conditions. The breath becomes a sanctuary to accompany us in all conditions.
In the detailed description of the 16 steps of anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) the first 12 steps develop samadhi (concentration) as a basis for the last four steps (13-16) of insight practice. These are using in and out breathing to become sensitive to impermanence (anicca), and from impermanence to releasing the agitation (viraga) from trying to find security in a fluid and fluctuating world. The second to last step in relaxing into the completeness and thoroughness of endings (nirodha), as a support to the last step of fully letting go.
After our initial work to begin meditation on in and out breathing we can further relax with total faith into immersion with breathing awareness. Some gentle supporting techniques of counting can be helpful, as well as welcoming an attitude of devotion and patience to support breathing as a sanctuary.
When the Buddha taught detailed instructions for breath meditation he often used 16 steps from initial meditation to complete freedom. The first 12 steps on the common meditation guidelines to develop stable concentration and experience a mind temporarily free from inner turmoil.
After exploring many categories of beings to eventually send mettā to all beings, we can now approach each conception of single or many mettā subjects to be places of collected, restful mettā samādhi (loving kindness concentration). It's more simple and humble than many expect it to be.
This style of meditation practice is designed to support both the strengthening of mettā (loving kindness) and samādhi (concentration). The kind and benevolent tone of the brahmavihārās (sacred dwellings) carries a deep beckoning of our hearts to be whole and steady, so these are wonderful and meaningful qualities to use for samādhi/concentration. After many days of practicing we can taste our hearts becoming whole and can better see the possibility of letting go of old habits based in greed, insecurity and hatred.