In every guided meditation or in the books I've read on meditation, I've been told to observe and hold sustained awareness towards the the 'meditation object', that is my breathing. When I do that, though, I stop breathing automatically and instead have to control my breaths. Can someone explain to me what's going on? Is this okay? Or is there a way I can observe my breath whilst automatically breathing?
These books are wrong, which is why relatively few Buddhists are stream-enterers or reach jhana.
To observe the computer screen in front of you, you do not have to do anything with your eyes. The seeing of the computer screen happens automatically, as long as your head is pointed in the direction of the computer screen & your mind is not asleep.
Similarly, in meditation, feeling & knowing the breathing happens automatically, as long as the mind is quiet, still & gentle. All that is really needed is to sit upright with a still, quiet, gentle, awake mind.
The difficult part is the quiet clear mind. If this can be done, the breathing part is easy because the body breathes automatically & the mind knows breathing automatically when the mind is quiet.
The path of the Buddha is the giving up of craving, which includes not craving when meditating.
The Zen masters say: 'The silent mind can listen to grass'.
(Ānāpānas)sati-kammaṭṭhāna=mindfulness, on breath, meditation. It is not breath meditation.
There for, the practitioner training mindfulness, not breath.
The breathing is always automatic. The practitioner doesn't have to control it.
The problem is that the natural of breath is soft and little, so people who never train mindfulness on breath have not enough mindfulness power to notice it.
To fix this problem, return your focus back to point at nose tip, when you find their, without worry, your mindfulness will meditate up to see your breath.
Trust the buddha that breath is automatic. Don't worry about breath. It is certainly automatic. So just find it only at nose tip. Shortly after that, a breath will appear to your mindfulness.
Summary each step of meditation:
Ᾱnāpānassati (Mindfulness-of-breathing) - An Introduction:
The Meditation Practice of Pa Auk Forest Monastery 1-3:
You can't not breathe, it's automatic. All you have to do is be aware that you're doing it and keep bringing the mind back to it. You're only controlling it if you feel you try to change the breaths for example making them longer or shorter which by the way is useful in some circumstances. Don't over think it. Just sit and breathe
Only mindfulness will bring everything in order. Just focus on breathing. Knowing out-breath, knowing in-breath is enough. Whenever the mind wander, just pay attention on out-breath, in-breath. In the early moment, one cannot focus on it as mind wander outside. As time goes by, concentration arise and it is very clear. Dhamma will show by itself. Some people may think, it is the beginning of meditation. But later he/she will know this out-breath in-breath noticing is all the way from beginning, middle and the end, the only way to nibbana, no two.