AN INTERLUDE : Concentration and Mindfulness
by Philip L. Jones
Insight Meditation uses the mental factors of concentration and mindfulness. These factors allow us to experience what is true in this moment.
All forms of meditation require a certain amount of concentration, which allows us to keep awareness focused on one object, such as the sensations of breathing, a word or a candle flame. Without concentration, the mind would not settle down enough for us to begin to feel some peacefulness and to begin to see what is actually happening in our experience.
While concentration allows us to hold our attention in this moment, mindfulness allows us to experience the present moment. Like concentration, mindfulness can be cultivated or strengthened. When a bell sounds, there is a moment in which it is recognized before the mind says "bell" or "sound." The moment of recognition is mindfulness. Sometimes mindfulness is called bare attention because it is bare of three qualities: judgment, decision-making and commentary.
Bare of judgment means that when an experience comes into awareness it is not judged as right or wrong, good or bad; it is simply perceived. For instance, when a bell sounds and mindfulness is predominant there would be a non-conceptual recognition that hearing was occurring without any judgment about whether what was heard was good or bad, loud or soft, etc. There would just be the experience of hearing.
Bare of decision-making means that we are not using the experience to try to solve a problem. When a bell sounds and mindfulness is predominant, we are not trying to decide whether it is the dinner bell or the doorbell. There is simply the experience of hearing the sound.
Bare of commentary means that we are not responding to a sense experience by getting caught up in a story about it. For example, when a bell sounds and mindfulness is predominant, we don't start thinking about how much we enjoy, or dislike, the sound of bells.
Mindfulness is like viewing clouds from the perspective of the sky, simply noticing them arising and passing through without any sense of them being good or bad clouds. They are just clouds. Mindfulness creates a space in which we can see things as they are, separate from our reactions to them. By creating this space and allowing us to see the truth of our lives in each moment, we develop a clear seeing and a wise understanding of how to respond.
Mindfulness and kindness or compassion go hand in hand. How can we possibly see what an experience really is while we are trying to push it away or trying to destroy it? In order to truly experience what something is, our minds must be free of judgment, decision-making and commentary and our hearts must be open, kind and accepting of what is. But this only needs to happen one moment at a time.