Mindfulness and Concentration

In the blog category “Mindfulness Concepts”, I will elaborate on the many ideas, concepts and insights that form the basis of the amazing practice of mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation involves a very delicate balancing act. The practice involves cultivating two separate qualities of the mind – mindfulness and concentration. Ideally these two work together as a team. Therefore, it is important to cultivate them side-by-side and in a balanced manner. If one of these qualities or skills is strengthened at the expense of the other, the balance of mind is lost and the utility of the practice is greatly diminished.

Concentration and mindfulness are distinctly different functions of the mind involving different skills. They each have their role to play in meditation, and the relationship between them is definite and delicate. Concentration is often called one-pointedness of mind. It consists of almost forcing the mind to remain on one static object. It can be developed by sheer unremitting willpower. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a delicate function leading to refined sensibilities. We can never force mindfulness. In order to gain utmost benefits from mindfulness meditation practice, it is important to cultivate an attitude of patience, gentleness and kindness towards ourselves.

To illustrate with an example, suppose we engage in mindfulness of breath meditation. The object of the practice is to be mindful of the breath as it comes in and goes out. We do this in a relaxed, calm and gentle manner. When we notice that your mind has wandered off, we gently bring it back to the breath. Mindfulness is the sensitive function that observes these changes. Concentration, however, provides the power that keeps the attention pinned down to the breath. It keeps our mind focused on the breath. When our mind does wanders off, mindfulness reminds us of the wandering. When we realize that our mind has wandered off, we are already being mindful. We can bring the attention back to the breath. This can happen many times during the course of a single sitting practice.

There is another difference between these two functions. Concentration is an exclusive function. It settles down on one object and ignores everything else. In an environment full of distractions, it can be really difficult to maintain concentration on an chosen object. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is an all-encompassing and inclusive function. It can be performed quite well within an environment full of distractions as the distractions themselves can be observed and the attention brought back to the object of practice. Mindfulness function comes with its own difficulties. To begin with, our wandering quality of mind is a deeply seated habit pattern that cannot be overcome by just a few hours of mindfulness practice. Some degree of effort, consistency and patience is definitely required for this practice.

However, the importance of mindfulness is that it is the only function that can examine the mechanics of self-centeredness and the suffering that results from it. Mindfulness can make us free of suffering. In a state of mindfulness, we see ourselves exactly as we are. We see your own selfish behavior. We see our own suffering and we see how we create that suffering. We see how we hurt others. Mindfulness leads to wisdom. Concentration can help us maintain mindfulness but concentration by itself cannot help us become free of our suffering.

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