Concentration Vs Mindfulness?
Many people new to meditation often confuse the differences between mindfulness or accepted bare attention to whatever arises in the moment and concentration or strong penetrating awareness on one thing without distraction. Concentration is a more intensely focused and engaged form of mindful attention. Concentration is sustained, powerfully focused, one-pointed attentional awareness. Concentration allows the focus of mindful attention to remain on the object of attention with less and less distraction. It is non-wandering bare attention on a phenomenon of object over longer periods of time. Using mindfulness as its foundation, concentration allows the mind to narrow and strengthen its focus. Concentration uses the process of mindfulness to enter deeper tranquility in meditation. Deep serenity and equanimity become possible. Sometimes we may become one with the object of concentration; in very fortunate times, this opens up our experiential, non-conceptual awareness to wisdom – the true nature of how things are. Like mindfulness, concentration also occupies the four domains of awareness – the body, the feelings, the mind/mental objects, and consciousness itself. Some might prefer the terms body, feelings, mind and the dharma/four noble truths/eightfold path.
Some of the more spiritual path aspects of concentration may bring us to the point where we realize via experience that the conditions of our life may prevent us from clear seeing the way things really are. Such realities as suffering, its causes, its cessation, ignorance, dependent origination, impermanence, emptiness, selflessness, etc. may become more clear in a concentrative state of meditation. You can see how concentration is far more than mindfulness – accepting simple pure awareness of experiences in the here and now without evaluations. When we train our mind well in concentration skills, and we intend to pursue special spiritual understandings, we may better understand and utilize suffering, its causes, its cessation, meditation, dharma, and the eightfold path. Concentrations also makes us more skillful in disempowering the obscurations and hindrances of mind. In longer-term concentrative meditation, we may reduce our tendencies to become stuck in these unpleasant mind states: anxiety, greed, mental lethargy, mental vacillation, shame, delusion and hatred. With additional experience in concentrative meditation we come to recognize the roles played by conditioned attachment, clinging, desiring, avoiding, and the persistent power of perceiving pleasant sense-based feelings, which some of us may misidentify as happiness.For serious-minded meditation practitioners, long-term practice of concentrative meditation may lead to practicing vipassana and the jhanas. In vipassana we become skilled observers of the moment-to-moment arising and falling away of all phenomena, including our own awareness of the awareness process itself. Within this process we open up to the experience of deep, quiet, inner peace and authentic joy. Authentic joy and happiness are not based on pure awareness of pleasant sense-based experiences. Through being in vipassana and the jhanas, we come to understand more fully the true nature of all the 10,000 things as well as enlightenment or nirvana depending upon your personal preferences.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
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For more information refer to Hart, W. (1987). The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation as Taught by S. N. Goenka. New York: Harper Collins. Salzberg, S. and Goldstein, J. (2001). Insight Meditation Workbook. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. Catherine, S. (2011). Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana. Boston: Wisdom Publications.