concentration vs. mindfulness

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meditation is very important to me. most of the time when i meditate i simply sit still for 15 or 20 minutes and practice noticing and accepting whatever sensations i feel. this is mindfulness meditation, or at least as close as i get to it. mindfulness is the type of meditation that has been the most helpful to me. at times, i can be so unaware of what i feel and how it affects me that i don’t even realize that i’m physically sore or sick or extremely anxious about something in the future. mindfulness is the antidote to that lack of awareness and refusal to accept the facts of what i feel. but mindfulness isn’t everything when it comes to meditation.

this article talks about concentration meditation. after reading it, i can see why i’ve been stuck in my practice for a long time. i have steadily improved at mindfulness, but my ability to avoid getting distracted has stayed at a complete standstill. a year ago, i could meditate for around 20 minutes before i realized i was squirming and thinking so much that i was no longer really meditating. and today, i still can only sit for 20 minutes before the same thing happens.

concentration meditation, as taught by this helpful video, seems like the answer. the narrator describes this type of meditation as going to the gym for the brain, to make it stronger. the article i mentioned a minute ago even talks about concentration as a tool, which could be used for good or evil, but is powerful either way. this practice includes some approaches that i normally would avoid, because they don’t fit into mindfulness. for instance, in this concentration practice the narrator directs you to count your breaths and say the number in your head, while mindfulness rarely encourages naming, even at the beginning stages. both types of meditation seem to converge as they improve, so that, in the end, you might be able to sit still and accept sensation and avoid distraction and not name anything at all.

i’ve also found a lot of help in metta meditation, which is a whole different type of practice that involves a lot more naming and thinking. i like the idea of having a whole arsenal of practices, developed by people thousands of years ago who had no televisions or computers but just as much of an ability to sit still and notice, deeply, what it is really like to be human. i recommend the article and video for a practice akin to lifting weights, tough, intentional, driven by willpower, which¬†will leave you calm and all the more able to find a deeper peace and acceptance with your mindfulness practice.

Vipassana meditation is something of a mental balancing act. You are going to be cultivating two separate qualities of the mind – mindfulness and concentration. Ideally these two work together as a team. They pull in tandem, so to speak. Therefore it is important to cultivate them side-by-side and in a balanced manner. If one of the factors is strengthened at the expense of the other, the balance of the mind is lost and meditation impossible.