The most difficult thing to do is to keep an unwavering watch on one's own breath— seems so simple and yet the most arduous task to accomplish. Try out yourself!
As soon as the mind enters the exercise, the focus quickly shifts from breath awareness to the thoughts. Here you are not being the witness of the mind but become the mind itself. So, this is one big fallacy that happens to many people who think that they are observing the breath, but what actually happens is they get one with the mind.
Mind and Thought Mechanics
Thoughts seldom come alone. When any thought arises, an appropriate, close and relatable emotion too rises with it. And human beings, largely driven by emotions, tend to miss the thought and get swayed by the emotion, instead. They begin to drown in that sentiment, and that one emotion leads them to a multifarious chain of emotions, which keep rising like the waves in the sea— one after another.
The mind is never silent. Your eyes might see something; your ears might hear something; your skin might experience something. Any external sensual stimulus is automatically going to prompt a commentary. Quite strangely, you’ll begin to notice with awareness that it is the mind that runs this commentary; it is the mind that listens to it, and the mind itself responds and reacts to this self-created inner discourse. So, it becomes a very taxing experience.
Suppose you boarded a train or aeroplane for a long trip of say 24 - 48 hours. You weren't doing anything, merely sitting. Yet, you get tired when the journey ends. Why is that so?
While being seated in the coach, your eyes see various things; ears hear multiple sounds, and the body feels the constant vibration due to train/plane movement. Then you might also eat something or talk, so your tongue is also engaged the whole time. So unceasingly, your mind continues to comment on every stimulus. And, in this continuity, the mind generates many emotions as per the triggered stimulus, resulting in subsequent occurrence of thoughts. So, although you didn't do much during the journey, when the time to finally alight from train or plane approaches, you feel extremely tired. You didn't break stones, wash clothes, did dusting, cooking, brooming, or even writing— and yet you end up exhausted.
What you are tired of is the continuous chatter, endless emotions evoking in mind, and continuously getting pushed into your past, and being reminded of some good or bad experience. So, the memories keep opening up, and we get tired of our own minds. Although, you'll never admit that you feel exhausted because of your mind—You might say that it is the journey that wears you out. You might believe it’s being in the train/plane for hours at a stretch got you tired, but on the inside, things are working out quite differently. You’ll have to be very watchful while keeping an eye on the breath, in order to catch what is actually happening behind the scene.
The question is, for how long, did you really remain with the breath? And for how long was your mind silent and did not indulge in any commentary at all? The reality is that this so-called mindfulness is truly a pretty short-lived state. However, its innate nature is to say something about what is seen or experienced at that very moment. So, do begin with being watchful of breath, but you'll have to keep reminding yourself to stay with the breath and not to get distracted or engaged in the past memories or commentary on external stimulus.
And, sometimes it can be the internal stimulus at play as well. For instance, you are sitting in a cave or a dark room, which is soundproof with no commotion happening around. No sight or smell, but there will be internal impulses arising. It could be your stomach— you could be hungry, bloated, or constipated. It could be your muscle that is aching— it might be your lumbar region that is feeling some pain. Perhaps it's the knees cringing with discomfort, or it could be drowsiness as well. In the absence of an external stimulus, the mind is soon going to get bored.
Usually, when a Sadhak sits down to witness the breath with closed eyes, his/her face tells a different story altogether; It sometimes reflects boredom, sluggishness, and even sleep. If you could witness your own face while being in so-called meditative state, you won't find a trace of compassion and quietude like the one visible on Buddha's face. Moreover, when people sit with closed eyes, they don't even look pleasing. This is so because their mind has opened up so much content for them that now they get busy with this pandora's box. Yes, they are trying to meditate, but are they really successful in doing so? This is a big question.
So, surely watching the breath is the best technique, which anybody can employ. Revered master Anandmurti Gurumaa has time and again suggested using various mantras or different rhythms to bring focus on breath, but ultimately, the Master is going to lead you towards watching the breath alone without relying on any external support for the same. All tools are a farce in reality, but for a beginner, they can work wonderfully well. This is why it is advisable to use a technique until you have mastered the ability to sit quietly with your breath and draw the real essence out of it.
To delve further and improve your understanding, listen to the discourse by Gurumaa on Secrets Of Mantra, Breathing & Initiation. If you are striving to deepen your watchfulness on breath, there are certain powerful techniques offered by the Master that can help you sharpen focus and intensify your practices. Follow the guided-meditation links given as under to know more.