Exercise 1

1.        Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.                   In

           Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.              Out


2.        Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.                    Flower

           Breathing out, I feel fresh.                                      Fresh


3.        Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.              Mountain

           Breathing out, I feel solid.                                      Solid


4.        Breathing in, I see myself as still water.                 Still water

           Breathing out, I reflect all that is.                           Reflecting


5.        Breathing in, I see myself as space.                     Space

           Breathing out, I feel free.                                      Free


This exercise can be practiced in the first part of any period of sitting meditation, or for the whole of the meditation period, to nourish and calm body and mind, to enable the meditator to let go and attain freedom.

            The first stage should be practiced for as long as it takes the body and mind to become one. The second stage encourages a sense of freshness. A human being should be as fresh as a flower, for indeed we are one species of flower in the garden of all phenomena. We need only to look at the beauty of children to see that human beings are flowers. Two round eyes are flowers. The clear complexion of the face with its gentle forehead is a flower. The two hands are a flower. . . . It is only because we worry that our foreheads become wrinkled. It is only because we cry so much and pass so many sleepless nights that our eyes are clouded. We breathe in to restore the flower in us. This in-breath brings the flower in us back to life. The out-breath helps us be aware that we have the capacity to be, and are now fresh as a flower. This awareness waters our flower. It is the practice of loving-kindness meditation towards ourselves.

            The third stage, “mountain, solid” helps us to stand firmly when we are upset by vehement feelings. Whenever we feel despair, anxiety, fear, or anger, we are carried right into the heart of a whirlwind. We are like a tree standing in the gale. If we look up, we shall see our branches bending as if they are about to break and be carried away by the storm. But if we look down, we shall know that the roots of the tree are held firmly in the earth, and we shall feel more stable and relaxed.

            Body and mind are like that. When there is a hurricane of emotions in us, if we know how to withdraw from the storm – that is, if we know how to withdraw from the turmoil of the brain – we shall not be swept away. We must transfer our attention to a place in the abdomen about two fingers’ width below the navel and breathe deeply and slowly according to the formula “mountain, solid.” In doing this, we shall see that we are not just our emotions. Emotions come and go, but we are always here. When we are oppressed by emotions, we feel very insecure and fragile; we may feel that we are in danger of losing life itself. Some people do not know how to deal with their strong emotions. When they are suffering greatly from despair, fear, or anger, they think the only way to put an end to their suffering is to put an end to their life. But those who know how to sit in meditation position and practice breathing with the exercise “mountain, solid” can weather such times of difficulty and suffering.

            This exercise can be practiced lying down, resting easily on the back. Our entire attention should be directed to the rising and falling of the abdomen. This will enable us to leave the storm area and to know that we can choose a more peaceful, stable state of mind whenever a storm occurs. Nevertheless, we should not wait until we find ourselves in difficulty in order to practice. If we do not have the habit of practicing, we shall forget how to do the exercise, and our emotions may once again overwhelm and oppress us. To make a good habit, we should practice every day; in that way, whenever painful feelings arise we shall know quite naturally how to resolve and to transform them. In addition, we can explain the practice to young people to help them ride out their stormy periods.

            “Still water, reflecting” is the fourth stage intended to calm the mind and body. In the Anapanasati sutta, the Buddha taught: “Breathing in I make my mind calm. . . . .” This exercise essentially does the same; the image of the still lake water simply makes the practice easier. When our mind is not calm, our perceptions are usually clouded; what we see, hear, and think does not reflect the truth of things, just as when the surface of a lake is troubled by waves, it cannot clearly reflect the clouds above. I wrote this gatha based on the words of our ancestral teachers:

Buddha is the cool moon,

Crossing the sky of utter emptiness.

The lake of the mind of beings quietens,

The moon reflects beautifully in it. 

            Our sorrows, pains, and anger arise from our wrong perceptions. In order to avoid these wrong perceptions, we need to practice making the mind as still as the surface of a still lake. The breathing is what does that work. 

            “Space, free” is the fifth stage. If we have too many preoccupations and cares, we will not have clarity and peace and joy. Thus the purpose of this exercise is to create space for ourselves, space in our hearts and space around us. We must release the anxieties and projects that burden us. We should deal in the same way with sorrows and anger. We must practice letting go of the things we carry needlessly. This sort of baggage only makes life heavy, even if sometimes it seems we cannot be happy without it – without, for example, a title, high position, fame, business, and people to run around after us. But if we look again, we shall see that this baggage is often nothing but an obstacle to our happiness. If we can just put it down, we shall have happiness. “Buddha is the cool moon,/ Crossing the sky of utter emptiness. . . .” Limitless space is the sky of utter emptiness. That is why the happiness of the Buddha is so great. One day the Buddha was sitting in the forest at Vaisali and saw a farmer going past. The farmer asked the Buddha if he had seen his herd of cows, which had broken loose. He also said that earlier that year he had lost two acres of sesame fields when they were attacked by caterpillars and complained that he must be the most wretched person on earth. Perhaps, he said, he should put an end to his own life. The Buddha advised him to look in another direction. After the farmer had gone, the Buddha turned to the bhiksus who were sitting with him and smiled. He said: “Bhiksus, are you aware of your happiness and freedom? You do not have any cows you need be afraid of losing.” Practicing this last exercise helps us to let go of our cows, the cows of our mind and the cows we have gathered around us. It can also be sung.


From "The Blooming of the Lotus: Guided Meditations for Achieving the Miracle of Mindfulness" by Thich Nhat Hanh