Weekly Practice (Mindfulness & Concentration)
If you followed along last week in the Weekly Practice (Impermanence), you may not have realized it, but we were also laying some groundwork for this week’s practice on mindfulness and concentration. If you didn’t do last week’s practice, you can go back and start there, or you can begin here. You can also take how ever much time for each practice. No one is keeping a clock on you.
We aren’t going to drop last week’s practice, but continue to notice impermanence in our meditation and daily practice. Impermanence leads us to mindfulness and concentration. Both are facets of the Eightfold Path, and they are the foundation on which all Buddhist practice relies. Without mindfulness and concentration, we tend to wander through life caught up in thoughts, opinions, emotions, stories built in our minds, which can carry us far from the here and now, what is really happening.
Mindfulness and concentration work hand in hand. While mindfulness is awareness, being present, instead of lost in thoughts, concentration focuses awareness.
What Buddha Said
(Samadhi Sutta: Concentration translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
“Monks, these are the four developments of concentration. Which four? There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents.”
“And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness? There is the case where feelings are known to the monk as they arise, known as they persist, known as they subside. Perceptions are known to him as they arise, known as they persist, known as they subside. Thoughts are known to him as they arise, known as they persist, known as they subside. This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness.”
Question What Buddha Said
There is an important part of the discourse above that’s easy to miss but vital to understanding: known to him as they arise, known as they persist, known as they subside. In other words, our usual habit is not to notice as something arises, but to get caught in it once it has arisen and force it to persist and persist and persist. Instead, the Buddha is saying, notice it arise, notice it persist, notice it subside. It can only subside if you let it go!
Let’s try this out in our meditation and daily practice, see if the Buddha is right, that developing concentration in this way will lead to pleasant abiding the here and now.
Set aside time for meditation every day, either sitting or moving, or both. Make sure you’re in a comfortable, safe place, with the likeliness of interruption minimal. You can deviate from the instructions below, but do try them out. Read through the sutta snippets above and the directions below daily before each session. Save a few minutes for the end of the session to reflect on the meditation experience.
- Once seated and comfortable, close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing. Breathe in and out naturally. Follow the breath in and out. Allow your attention to notice the body as you breath in and out.
- If a feeling arises from the body, from your knee, your back, wherever, just notice the feeling has arisen, note if it is fleeting or more persistent. Then bring your attention back to the breath, in and out, in and out, concentrate on the breath.
- If a thought arises. Notice a thought has arisen, notice if it is fleeting and disappears on its own, or is it persistent. Notice if it is trying to entice you. Then bring your attention back to the breath, in and out, in and out.
- If a sound arises, notice the arising of the sound, notice the reaction of the mind, notice if the sound suddenly disappears, or if it persists. Then return to the breath, concentrating only on the breath, in and out, in and out.
- If an emotion or reaction to something arises, notice it has arisen. Notice if it tries to persist, then return to the breath, concentrating on the in and the out of the breath.
- If your attention veers off the breath, notice where it has gone, notice if it tries to persist, then gently return your attention to the breath. Concentrate on the in breath. Concentrate on the out breath. Stay with the breath, noticing it arise, noticing if it pauses, then notices as it subsides.
- Whatever takes you off the breath, whether a thought, feeling, emotion, sound, boredom, excitement, simply notice what has arisen, notice it’s persistence, then let it go by returning to the breath.
- Moving meditation can be done through walking, yoga, tai chi, or simply moving your body in a designated, safe area.
- Bring your awareness to the top of your head and bring it slowly down to your neck, shoulders, arms, torso, hips, legs, and feet. Notice any sensations, lack of sensations, etc. Take your time doing this.
- Begin your movements in your preferred form. Pay attention to how each muscle feels as you move. Notice your breath, in and out. Keep your movements small and deliberate, your attention on your body, as you move your arms or legs. Notice how muscles contract and release. Is there tension in your body anywhere? Can you relax the muscles you are not using?
- Bring your awareness to balance. How does your balance change as you move? How does your awareness need to change as you shift your balance? Do your muscles perform consistent with each similar movement?
- Keep your concentration on the movement of your body, each limb, where your balance is, how your weight shifts.
- Notice whenever a thought arises, notice if it tries to persist, then return your concentration back to your body.
- Notices when an emotions arises. Notice if it tries to persist, if you can feel it in the body. Then let the emotion go and return your concentration to the next movement.
- Notice feelings that arise in the body, if it tries to persist, then bring your attention back to the body, your breathing.
- Whenever your concentration on the movement of your body broken by outside sounds, arising thoughts, feelings, emotions, simply return your concentration back to the body, your limbs as they move, the feeling of your center of gravity.
- Repeat this session every day.
Notice in all of this there is no judgement. Judgement requires you to stop and think and access a situation. Here, we are simply noticing what takes our attention away from the breath or the body, without censure, without judgement, noticing how the thing tries to stay in our attention, then mindfully and with intention going back to concentrate on the in and out of the breath. If your concentration remains on the breath, or body, without interruption, that’s fine, keep focused. If you find objects constantly vying for your attention, simply notice what it is, and let go by returning to the breath.
You will be amazed over the course of the week how much you learn from this. Please note the goal is not to be without thoughts, emotions, or feelings. The idea behind this is to learn to be mindful when anything arises, to note how persistent is it, then to let go by returning and concentrating on our breathing. There is no bad meditation, even if every 1/4 of a second something new arises. This is a fascinating learning process. See yourself as a guinea pig, so to speak, and take interest in the process.
Bringing Meditation into Daily Living
Throughout the day as you go about your daily tasks and concentrate on what you’re doing, notice what tugs at your focus. Simply notice whether it’s a thought, emotion, or sound, and let it go by returning to the task at hand. If you get swept up in a mental tirade, an emotion, simply note it’s persistence, then again, return to the task at hand.
When you can, stop what you are doing, and simply become aware of the body. Note any tension, relaxed points, etc. Bring your attention to your breath, in and out, just for a minute or two. Then return to what you were doing. Can you be mindful of your breath while doing repetitive tasks? What happens when you try?
Can you notice thoughts and emotions arise throughout the day and then let them go by returning to the task at hand or focusing on the body? If you come across a task that requires a lot of thinking, does your body or emotions interrupt you? Can you simply return to what you were supposed to be thinking about?
Can you see how mindfulness, the awareness of objects arising and subsiding, plays in with concentration, and how they help each other?
Last week we saw how everything is impermanent, and now we see how we can let go of those things even more quickly by simply returning to the breath or body. Sometimes, though, it isn’t simple, but the more you practice the easier it gets to let go of persistent thoughts and emotions.
When sounds, people interruptions, etc. arise in your environment, can you be mindful of them, then return to what you were doing without judgement and thoughts forming stories in your mind? Try simply noticing your breath and body, then going back to what you were doing. What happens when you practice this? How present are you in the here and now when your attention is on your breath?
Be sure at the end of each day to reflect on your meditations and practice sessions. Notice what you are learning and observing. Share with us here any insights you have, questions, difficulties, etc. It’s encouraging for us all to hear from others!
For More Information:
The Path of Concentration & Mindfulness