concentration vs. mindfulness




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.



atoms are mostly empty space and i am mostly atoms




meditation is teaching me what it is like to learn how to do something. perfect practice makes perfect, which is to say, 1. i continue to use guided meditations and read and listen to podcasts about buddhism and mindfulness, and 2. i continue to practice it as a habit for a certain amount of time most days. i decide to practice – whether i want to or not – for the sake of deciding to do it. or for the sake of the small bump of reward-endorphins i feel as i start and when i finish.

this might be too rationalist/materialistic, but it is odd to think that what i perceive as an inability to recognize and feel confidence in my own achievements might be a simple equation of low output of a certain chemical that would alter my intuitions. i hope it is more of a plasticity issue, sequences of firing neurons, and that i can fake it till i make it as they learn better sequences. and, by the way, it is very funny that i think of my neurons as “they.” what is more “I” that my own neurons? if i’m not my neurons, then who am i?

i am not my brain; i am not a captain at the helm of a ship sitting behind my eyeballs; at least part of what i think of as myself is my emotions, and those emotions are directed by chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, and there are more of those chemicals in the stomach than in the brain, so why don’t i assume “Me” is peaking out my navel?



and it doesn’t stop there: why does it feel like Me is only in my body? on the smallest scale that we know about everything is made of atoms. the things around me in my bedroom – desk, bed, blanket, book, empty glass with residue of protein powder and such and such a color and at such and such a distance from myself – are clouds of atoms. atoms are made of particles, and most of them are empty space. that empty space is a vacuum; i and everything around me and everything that i imagine still exists outside these four walls is mostly empty space. a brain takes in what it can process through the senses and uses that to build a desktop display full of folders with programs and apps and word documents named “this is what a desk is” and “this is what anger feels like,” and so on.

so if i am a pile of atoms, mostly made of nothing, and we (the atoms) are sitting on other piles of atoms (bed to floor which is the top of the next ceiling down)…well, what is stopping me from being everything?