Over the last several weeks, we’ve been exploring the energizing factors of awakening: energy, investigation and rapture. We will now turn our attention to the stabilizing factors, which help balance the mind.
Samadhi. Concentration, or samadhi in Pali, is the first of these stabilizing factors. And there are two types of samadhi that we will be exploring:ekaggata samadhi (single-pointed concentration) and khanika samadhi(moment to moment concentration).
This week, we’ll explore the first of these samadhis, the process of training our minds to come to a single point of experience. This steadiness of mind does a great deal to bring relief from the torrential onslaught of discursive thinking and emotional hijacking that our untrained minds can subject us to. With persistence and practice, a disciplined strategy will always prevail.
Many objects can be employed to develop this single-pointed attention. Candles, mantras, mandalas and malas are just a few of the options. Personally, I prefer the breath. It’s simple, portable and discreet.
Breathing Ladders. Try this exercise as a way to strengthen an even steadiness of attention (personal trainers out there might recognize the methodology!) As you begin, after the first exhalation count, silently ‘one’. Then after the next exhalation count ‘two’. And so on, all the way up to 10, whereupon you then descend from 9 to 1. At this point, you will repeat the cycle, only this time ascend just to 9, then back down again. Then up again, this time to 8, etc., all the way to 1.
Here’s the kicker: if you lose your place, eat a bit of humble pie and start over from the beginning. And when you get to 1, then go ahead and practice another round of this ladder. When you are able to stay steady and focused for 5 complete rounds, you’ve developed some pretty strong single-pointed samadhi. And this focus can now be used for good work, peering deeply into the nature of mind and reality.
As Jack Kornfield writes:
“Concentration is a steadiness that gives the mind tremendous strength. Just as light, when concentrated in a laser, has the ability to cut through steel, the concentrated mind has the ability to penetrate deeply into the process of mind and body, and to explore widely other realms of consciousness.”
Originally published on September 29, 2011