I used to think that following the in-breath and the out-breath during meditation wasn’t enough information as explained in the Ānāpānasati Sutta (M. iii. 78–79). Something was missing. Then I came to the radical idea that the “breather” is antecedent to the breath itself. This view for me produced a profound shift in meditation. I could actually begin to sense a spiritual separation from the breathing. Since breathing is conditioned and is connected with the five aggregates (skandhas) of physical shape, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness it dawned upon me that Ānāpānasati Sutta might work at helping us detach from the aggregates especially the defilements.
Recently, I found this passage which seemed to throw more light on the breathing and the place of the breather which is the attā/ātman (often translated by the English word self, a noun).
“What, Rāhula, is the air element? The air element may be either internal or external. What is the internal air element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is air, airy, and clung-to, that is, up-going winds, down-going winds, winds in the belly, winds in the bowels, winds that course through the limbs, in-breath and out-breath, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is air, airy, and clung-to: this is called the internal air element. Now both the internal air element and the external air element are simply air element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the air element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the air element” (M. i. 422–23).
It’s pretty straightforward, as with all the aggregates we also have to dis-identify with the breath. The in and out breath are not my ātman. Thus we become disenchanted with the air element which makes the mind dispassionate towards the air element. And here, perhaps, lies the secret of breath meditation.