Attending. Meditation is loving the one you are with.
Concentration. Meditation is shoveling the snow from the path, so that more snow can fall, be seen, and shoveled, until spring.
Attending by “loving the one you’re with” and concentration by staying with the point of focus become unified in the practice of meditation. Each is absorbed by the other. Being absorbed in the union of attending and concentration is the approach to the practice. Practicing one without the other leads to discursiveness or fixation, respectively.
Attending during meditation is like approaching a situation with relaxed open hands willing to receive whatever comes. The mental and emotional posture is like “loving the one you’re with”. It is open and equanimous. Referring to the snow simile in the previous post, approaching the endless activity of the mind stream during the practice is like holding out an open relaxed hand and letting the snow fall through spread fingers or letting it land and melt in the warm, open palm. With this open hand approach there might also be a tendency to let the mind be lax and carried away by whatever thought arises; to drift from thought impulse to thought impulse like snow flurries in the wind. There also may be a tendency in the practice to try to grasp thoughts that are appealing and cling to them, especially thoughts that trigger positive emotions or seem meaningful. Approaching the thought stream in this way is similar to trying to hold onto the snow or making it into a snowball to prevent it from melting.
To limit this discursiveness or distraction during meditation, concentration or staying with the point of focus is applied. The practice of focusing on a specific aspect of the experience like the breath, the pulse, a repeated mantra, word or phrase, draws the attention away from the whims of the habitual mindstream or the clinging that comes with desire and preference. This encourages resting in the immediate experience of the present moment. Repeatedly directing the attention of the mind to a single point of focus encourages the mind to relax its vigilance and habit of seeking something or averting from something. It also serves as reminder to maintain the approach of open attending to whatever is arising without grasping it or following it. This practice over time allows space for an open hand approach to the practice and eventually to all aspects of life. This type of easeful concentration allows the thought stream to flow unimpeded while also preventing the discursiveness that comes with too much laxity. This is similar to shoveling snow to keep the path clear to allow an open, flowing connection with the world.
In the practice of concentration there may be a tendency to hold fast to the point of focus in such a way that there is clenching and clinging. Closing the open hand of the at-ease mind into a fist and clamping down on the point of focus can create tension in the body, inflexibility of thinking and fixation rather than easeful attending. When there is an awareness of this hardening experience relying on open handed attending will bring release and a return to an easeful meditation.
With time, the alternation between the two seemingly contradictory practices of open attention and concentration become absorbed into one seamless experience of open minded, easeful and equanimous attention to whatever arises in the present experience. This might be similar to the eventual passing of winter storms and the arrival of spring when the earth, after being repeatedly exposed to the light of the sun, retains its warmth and any late snow that falls melts away leaving the soil moist, loamy, and ready for cultivation.
With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.
Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome.
We practice on ZOOM:
- Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Wednesdays and Fridays – “Formal” Practice 7:00 AM Pacific TIme
- Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time
ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789
Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”