Finding concentration on the cushion

When beginning meditation practice, the meditator is faced with a series of things that arise.

Early on, the body sitting in posture is unfamiliar and often uncomfortable. We have to come to some equanimity with the sensations that arise – essentially, we get familiar and comfortable by taking the posture again and again (and finding a good, working posture and cushions of the right height, etc.). Eventually, the aches and pains of longer sits become less of a distraction and more like fuel for concentrating the mind, a great opportunity to develop equanimity and a chance to explore sensation in the body in a variety of ways.

Thoughts and the thinking mind, most often referred to as “monkey mind” is another aspect of experience that we need to sit with for a long time in order to get to know it. When we take the time to become familiar with the mind, we notice many many things. We can see that not all of our thoughts are to be taken so seriously. We see that some of them are downright ridiculous, and don’t reflect our core beliefs at all. Seeing this over and over, we begin to de-identify with the content of the thoughts. Just because a thought goes through your mind, doesn’t mean it’s “what you think” or what you believe to be true. In sitting with our thoughts over a long time, we start being more interested in the process of thinking and less with the content. Focusing on where thoughts arise from (in the body, from the depths of the mind, fabricated or floating through?) Focusing on verbal thought vs. imagery. After much practice, we do become more familiar with the mind in many of it’s aspects. Sometimes during periods of intense practice, the talking/picture mind, given enough room and space, without any “push” or “pull”, no resistance and no pursuit — eventually looses some energy and quiets down. The watching and observing mind is still perfectly active, but the thinking mind is settling down. This is concentration.

Concentration comes on retreats (speaking personally, of course). Concentration has also started to come when my daily practice is strong. Today’s sit was a good one. It was a little like a retreat in terms of the momentum in that I sat last night with Mission Dharma (so about an hour before the talk, then sitting during the talk) and I came home and sat for half an hour after the group sit. This morning.. I was concentrated for my morning sit.

Focusing on the breath; on subtler and subtler aspects of it. Seeing the faint sensations at the nostrils. Choosing to focus on the smallest sensation I can find breathing in; feeling the vibration of sensation; feeling the on/off, wavelike vibrations. Staying with them. At this point, all else is absent. The focus is strong, but there is still some effort or some sense of effort. After some time with this, sensations in the face appear. Contraction sensations are felt in the awareness and the body. I remembered the Mindfulness of Breathing instructions — and that awareness of the breath was accompanied by other things. This comes to mind: He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ So I allowed for the expansion of awareness to include my entire body, while keeping the awareness of the breath. The body felt empty and spacious. With this expanded awareness, the same sensations of breath were available from this spacious perspective — but now, without the contracted feelings.

The church bells in the distance began to ring. I felt the sounds. The beautiful sound of the tibetan bowl joined in, along with the sounds of traffic, the thinking mind, the sensations of a deep bow, eyes opening and deep breath and a smile..

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