October 26, 2021

Joy & Happiness in Mindfulness of Breathing

IMS Online Mini Retreat with Andrea Castillo

Joy & Happiness in Mindfulness of Breathing

Saturday, October 30, 2021

9:00 am – 12:45 pm ET

Andrea Castillo, born in Mexico City, has practiced insight meditation since 1998. She has taught Dharma in Spanish at the Insight Mediation Society (IMS) since 2011 and recently graduated from the IMS Teacher Training Program. Andrea completed a Ph.D. in the Humanities at Stanford University in 2009. She is also a graduate of the Sati Center Chaplaincy Training Program, and of the Local Dharma Leaders Program taught by Gil Fronsdal and Andrea Fella.

Andrea offers residential retreats in the US and Latin America, and she teaches mindfulness in English and Spanish to various populations in and around San Francisco.

IMS Staff Writer Raquel Baetz sat down with Andrea to talk about her upcoming virtual mini retreat, “Joy & Happiness in Mindfulness of Breathing.”

Describe the “Mindfulness of Breathing” discourse or anapanasati.

It’s one of the many discourses that the Buddha gave, and it centers around mindfulness. In Pali, anapanasati translates to “mindfulness of breathing.” “Sati” means mindfulness and “anapana” means breath in and breath out. The very first time we come to practice, to meditate, we’re told to pay attention to the breath. And how do you pay attention? That’s the mindfulness that we have to learn.

This discourse is about how to train your body and mind to become free from unnecessary suffering. Mindfulness of the breath is present in every one of the instructions. After the first two instructions, which deal only with the breath, you are given one more object to pay attention to in meditation. First is the body and learning how to calm the bodily activity so you can relax it. Then you build from there and you go to the mind. You want to pay attention to the mind and try to calm your mental activity. From there, you go to liberating the mind from the burdens of the self, and we do so through cultivating delight and concentration. At this point we are poised and ready to contemplate the last set of instructions: the truths of existence, impermanence being at the center of it. The instructions of this discourse culminate with letting go into Nibbana or final deliverance from suffering.

What inspired you to focus on the topic of “Joy & Happiness in Mindfulness of Breathing” for this mini retreat?

I’ve been working with anapanasati intensely for the last half a year or so, basically every day and it’s become my favorite practice. It’s a rich discourse and it’s been a real inspiration for me.

There is such a succinct way of putting the teachings, it’s so simple, but so deep. With anapanasati, you’re building on what you’ve done before. The mind loves to just settle into the different groups of instructions and just feel how organically they arise, each from the previous one.

How does mindfulness of breathing enable us to cultivate joy and happiness?

When we meditate, we gather this lovely, kind, flexible, receptive attention–that is sati–into our body, which allows us to experience well-being. This well-being, which naturally arises at the end of the first group of instructions with anapanasati, places us in a perfect position to experience joy and happiness.

It’s often very difficult for us to connect to joy and happiness. The main reason for that is because we try to go there too soon, before we give it all the time and space that the body needs to settle down to tap into that sense of well-being. It can feel a little bit fake when we try to go there too fast. For example, if we’re feeling agitated and the body is tense, and then you say to yourself, “Breathing in joy, breathing out joy.” You’re going to think, “What am I doing? I still feel miserable.” You first must have some sense of ease and well-being, and then you can work towards cultivating joy and happiness–but in an honest way, not forced. And to be honest with yourself, to admit when there’s no joy or happiness, and that’s okay. And then how do you work with it when there is none? There’s an inclining of the mind that can happen that is gentle and respectful of the mind. And when it’s not happening, you go back to allowing this dialogue of breath and body to happen so that you can get out of the way and the body can just begin to settle.

That’s what I’m really interested in exploring. How can we cultivate joy and happiness through mindfulness of the breath, and do it honestly and respectfully to the mind and heart, even when we feel it’s just not there? We’ve all gone through such hard times in the last couple of years and it’s hard to access it. But even a tiny moment of the body relaxing a little bit–that’s already the seedling of joy.

“Joy and happiness in our practice are like the favorable winds for sailboats that propel them in the desired direction.” You refer to this in the description for the mini retreat. What do you mean?

When we begin to feel these moments of well-being—from a tiny bit of well-being to rapture–we notice the pleasant aspect of it, and just noticing it makes it grow. When we are in touch with that sense and know that it’s possible, we understand that it’s inside of us and we can access it. For example, it’s not that the pandemic has gone away, or I’ve gotten the job I wanted, or the partner I wanted, but this refuge is here, inside of me, and it’s a tool that I can access. Once we understand this, the well-being naturally arises, and this energy propels us to want to continue practicing, to cultivate this feeling.

We can create this momentum, just like the wind that propels the sails. This momentum of feeling creates the energy of joy and makes it grow. So, we do the right things, we set the conditions to practice more, to make more effort, to be wiser with our many slips in life, and we keep going.

What can attendees to this mini retreat expect?

My aim is to offer instructions that are simple, direct, and applicable to our lives. I’m aware that people learn in different ways, so I will use different modalities to explain the concepts. For example, we may use images or poetry.

Also, we will have time and space to catch up with ourselves. I think that’s one thing that we desperately need right now. We need to allow our bodies time and space to rest. We need to give our minds time to digest the immense amount of stimulus and information we take in. It’s like we’re in debt with ourselves regarding rest and processing information and emotions. And I want to offer an opportunity for people to have time and space to have this intimacy with themselves.

Is there anything else you would like participants to know?

I will invite people to let me know–via private chat—if there is something big that is going on with them or that they’re holding in their lives. So that, without naming anyone, I can shape the teachings to reflect this. I want participants to sense that there is a bridge between the teachings and what’s going on in their lives. This way, they can apply these instructions to what’s going on with them right now and they can make a difference.

For more information, and to register for this IMS Online Mini Retreat, clickhere.