It is very common for teachers of meditation to describe one of two general types of meditation, and to recommend one as being superior to the other:
Concentration: In this approach, one intentionally focuses the attention on only one object, such as breath, mantra, a chakra center, or an internally visualized image.
Mindfulness: In this approach, one does not focus the mind on one object, but rather observes the whole range of passing thoughts, emotions, sensations, or images.
Students of meditation often find themselves confused by having to decide which is best, having to practice only one or the other of mindfulness or concentration. To cause further confusion, mindfulness is often described as coming from one religion or tradition, while concentration from another religion or tradition.
To the sages of the Himalayas, both methods are used in yoga meditation. In fact, they are not seen as different choices at all. Mindfulness and concentration are companions in the same one process that leads inward to the center of consciousness.
If one stays only in the shallow, beginning levels of meditation, then choosing between one or the other can seem to make sense. But if you go deeper in meditation, you will find that both processes are essential.
If one practices only mindfulness, the mind is trained to always have this surface level activity present. Having this activity constantly present may be seen as normal, and the attention simply does not go beyond the mind-field. Attention can “back off” from experiencing deeper meditation and samadhi so as to remain in the fields of sensation and thoughts.
If one practices only concentration or one-pointedness, the mind is trained to not experience this activity of thoughts, sensations, emotions, and images. The activity is seen as something to be avoided, and the attention may not even be open to the existence of these experiences. Attention can “back off” from the deeper aspects of the mind field, and thus prevent deeper meditation and samadhi.
By practicing both mindfulness and concentration, one is able to experience the vast impressions, learning the vital skill of non-attachment, while also using concentration to focus the mind in such a way as to be able to transcend the whole of the mind field, where there is only stillness and silence, beyond all of the impressions. Finally, one can come to experience the center of consciousness, the Absolute reality.
To the sages of the Himalayas, mindfulness can be emphasized at one time, concentration emphasized at another, and the two can work together.
When exploring the mind, mindfulness may be emphasized, while remaining focused. Then, if a particular thought pattern or samskara is to be examined so as to weaken its power over the mind, concentration is the tool with which this examination is done. This allows an increase in vairagya, non-attachment.
When settling the mind, trying to pierce the layers of our being, including senses, body, and breath, concentration carries the attention inward through the layers.
When attention moves into that next deeper level of our being, then concentration and mindfulness once again work together to explore that layer, so as to once again move beyond, or deeper.
In the yoga meditation of the Himalayan tradition, one systematically works with senses, body, breath, the various levels of mind, and then goes beyond, to the center of consciousness. The qualities of mindfulness and concentration dance together in this journey.
When dealing with the senses and body, there is emphasis on exploring and examining, being open to all of the thoughts, emotions, and sensations. One systematically moves attention through the parts and aspects of the body, fully experiencing the sensory impressions. This is quite similar to what is sometimes recommended by those who exclusively teach mindfulness meditation.
When dealing with the breath, there comes a stage wherein one experiences the energy or prana level alone. This is beyond, or deeper than the mechanical or gross breath, and does not involve the thought process of passing images. It involves solely concentrating on that level of our being. There is definitely a mindfulness of the play of energy within that level, and it is done in a concentrated, non-attached way.
When attention goes further inward, there is the mind field itself. In this stage of practice, the senses have been withdrawn, and there is no longer any sensory awareness of the body, nor of the physical. One is now fully in the level of mind itself. Here is still another form of mindfulness, exclusive of bodily sensation, and once again, concentration is its companion.
Finally, one comes near the end of the mind and all of its associated thoughts, emotions, sensations, and impressions. Concentration is essential at this stage. As Patanjali notes, there is then little to know as the experiences have been resolved into their causes.
By working with both mindfulness and concentration, it is easy to see three skills in which the mind is trained, and how these go together:
Focus: The mind is trained to be able to pay attention, so as to not be drawn here and there, whether due to the spontaneous rising of impressions in meditation, or due to external stimuli.
Expansion: The ability to focus is accompanied by a willingness to expand the conscious field through that which is normally unconscious, including the center of consciousness.
Non-Attachment: The ability to remain undisturbed, unaffected and uninvolved with the thoughts and impressions of the mind is the key ingredient that must go along with focus and expansion.
While speaking here of integrating the practices of mindfulness and concentration, it is useful to note that, in a sense, integrating is not quite the right word.
The science of yoga meditation as taught by the Himalayan sages is already a whole, complete science that has been torn into smaller pieces over time. Individual parts have been cut out from the whole, given separate names, and then taught as unique systems of meditation.
Using mindfulness and concentration is not really a process of gluing together two systems. Because of various teaching lineages pulling them apart and creating theappearance of separateness, it can now seem that we are integrating two systems. It is only an appearance. Mindfulness and concentration have both been part of the same, one process of meditation for a very long time.
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