As taught by my teacher, Shinzen Young, meditation is the cultivation of three distinct attentional skills: concentration, clarity, and equanimity.
Concentration, the most foundational skill, is the ability to focus the mind on the object of meditation and prevent it from straying. The object of meditation could be the breath, somatic sensations, internal or external sights or sounds, etc. Once you are able to consistently stay with the object of meditation for a period of ten minutes without once getting distracted, you have begun to stabilize concentration. Like any skill, this takes practice.
Clarity is the capacity to track and explore the subtleties of our sensory experience in real time. Clarity involves inviting sensory information that was formerly playing out beneath the surface level of mind into conscious awareness. If we are not cultivating clarity, it is likely that emotions/beliefs/motivations we are not conscious of are dictating our course of action in the world, perhaps unskillfully.
Equanimity represents a third option between clinging (wanting) and aversion (not wanting.) The practice of equanimity is the practice of accepting reality as it is. Equanimity does not imply nihilism, or suggest that one should not have goals and aspirations. An equanimous mind is fully present, and thus able to enjoy life’s beauty without clinging to it, and be with life’s difficulty without resisting it.
In our culture it is not uncommon for our own minds to be very critical and unkind to us. In some cultures, this is literally unfathomable.
And so, the first task for a beginning meditator here in the Western world should be the practice of cultivating a mind that is consistently kind to YOU at least, and to others eventually.
We can cultivate a mind that is loving and kind through the practice of Metta. "Metta" is a Pali word that translates loosely to loving-kindness. In this practice, we are intentionally cultivating the mind state of loving kindness. We notice that when we view our conditioned thought patterns and behaviors through the mind state of loving kindness a friendly self-acceptance begins to emerge.
In addition to creating a pleasant and beneficial mind state, the practice of Metta addresses the three foundational skills of the meditator:
Concentration – is the mind concentrated on the phrase or has it wandered into memory/planning/fantasy?
Clarity – is the mind state of Metta present or has another, perhaps afflictive mind state, arisen? As sensory clarity deepens, the mind state of Metta can be felt as a pleasant vibratory sensation in the body.
Equanimity – if the mind state of Metta has emerged, am I available to feel it’s sweetness? If I am finding the practice frustrating, can I allow the feeling of frustration to arise without needing to change it? Can I accept my experience of this moment as it is, knowing that it will pass, giving rise to another experience which will also pass?
It is quite alright if your initial experience of this practice is just the very monotonous repetition of the phrase with no trace “loving kindness” whatsoever!
Simply by concentrating on the phrase you are learning to prevent the mind from generating afflictive emotions that have no real basis in the present moment, and building the cognitive capacity to be aware of where the mind goes moment by moment. You may find that mind, left unchecked by mindfulness, wanders into some pretty dark places! With practice, it is within your power to prevent this, and to incline the mind toward positivity. These are highly valuable skills for a man who would live purposefully.
The practice is very simple, though not necessarily easy. You will be faced with the difficult task of wrangling your monkey mind into concentration. Furthermore, the practice allows us to deeply feel and liberate old wounds that we have not fully processed – this is challenging!
For these reasons, meditation is Warrior’s work.
Ultimately, the practice is an act of service. The more peaceful and kind your mind becomes, the more peaceful and kind the world becomes.
Your mind influences and affects everyone in your life, even those you will never actually meet.
Your mind is your responsibility.
The practice of meditation is stepping fully into that responsibility.
Watch the video below to learn a technique you can implement today to turn your mind into an ally on your path to live purposefully.