Hola mi gente,
Many people become curious when I tell them that I meditate on a daily basis. There are many forms of meditation and the one I practice is from the Buddhist tradition called vipassana or insight meditation. Vipassana can be translated as “Insight,” a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. I’ve run into so many people who say, “I tried it, but I can’t do it.” But this is like saying you tried seeing… if your vision works, then it follows that you should be able to see, no?
It’s the same with meditation: if you’re not in a vegetative state, then you have the tools with which to meditate. A part of human evolution is the emergence of what some scientists now call the “opposable thumb of consciousness” — mindfulness. It’s hard to describe, but it’s the part of your consciousness that watches the watcher. The simplest way I can put it is that mindfulness is the ability to be aware that you’re aware. In any case, the only way you can access this function is by doing it.
Below, you’ll find a short article by a former teacher who explains in clear and elegant language, the notion of concentration and the development of mindfulness.
Goldstein, J. (1993). Insight meditation: The practice of freedom. Boston: Shambhala.
You may have noticed how easy it is to stay present when you engage in an activity you enjoy, like playing some sport, watching a movie, reading a book, or even playing Nintendo. Why can we be so concentrated in these activities, and yet find ourselves distracted and restless when we meditate? Surprisingly, this simple question can lead us to a profound understanding of suffering and freedom.
What we call mind is the naturally pure knowing faculty‑invisible, clear, and lucid. In some Tibetan texts it is called “the cognizing power of emptiness.” But mind includes more than just knowing, because in each moment of experience different qualities, or mental factors, arise with it and color the knowing in various ways. For example, greed, hatred, love, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom, among many others, are all mental factors arising and passing in different moments, each functioning in its own way.
When we engage in various activities, different mental factors are at work. In Nintendo, we need to be right there with the game or we lose. The mind needs to be steady and one-pointed, with the factor of concentration quite strong. In addition to concentration, another quality of mind plays a critical role — the mental factor of perception. Perception recognizes, names, and remembers appearances by picking out their distinguishing marks. Through the power of perception we recognize each appearing object of experience: woman, man, pine tree, Abraham Lincoln, computer, car, and innumerable others. Concentration and perception keep us present and absorbed in whatever life-game is happening.
Meditation practice is different. In order to develop insight and wisdom, we need to add the factor of mindfulness to the mental equation of concentration and perception. Mindfulness goes beyond the simple recognition of what is happening. It goes beyond keeping the mind steady. Through its strong power of observation, mindfulness uncovers the characteristic nature of experience itself.
Absorption in a movie or in Nintendo does not reveal the momentariness of phenomena. We do not see the impermanence and insubstantiality of all things and events, nor do we notice the empty nature of awareness itself. Perception and concentration arise in every moment; even when the mind gets lost in thought, we still recognize what it is we are thinking. But only mindfulness reveals that we are thinking. This is a critical difference. Perception by itself does not lead to insight into impermanence and selflessness, because it engages us in the content and story of what appears. Mindfulness emerges from the story and notices the moment-to-moment arising and passing of sense impressions, thoughts, and consciousness itself.
If we understand these three important factors of mind clearly — concentration, perception, and mindfulness — then their coming into balance becomes the field of freedom.
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My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…