From single-pointed concentration (ekaggata samadhi) to moment-to-moment concentration (khanika samadhi).
Once the mind gets reasonablyestablished on the breath, it’s important to shift the focus to include all aspects of the present moment, not just the breath. I say reasonably because this is a rather arbitrary moment in practice — the moment when one feels, “Yes, the mind is fairly well established with the breathing, time to open the attention up,” or “Nope, the mind is still a bit too lost in chatter, better continue to anchor with the breathing.” Only practice, itself, will refine your ability to know when to make that call!
That said, as yogis and meditators, there’s an odd tendency to fetishize the breath; if we’re with it, all is well and our practice is sailing, but if we keep losing sight of the breath, we grow worried that our practice is in shambles. The point to emphasize here is that the breath is just a tool to connect us with the present. It’s a means to an end, not an end unto itself.
I recently heard an amusing talk by Ajahn Amaro, Peace Comes From Right Understanding, where he recounts an interesting turning point in the practice of the great Thai master Ajahn Mahaboowa. Apparently, Mahaboowa was naturally adept at entering deep states of concentrative absorption, states pervaded with ease and bliss.
But when Mahaboowa described his meditation to his teacher, Ajahn Mun, the teacher’s response was not the glowing praise he expected to hear. Unimpressed, Mun grumbled something like: “Eh… well, these deep states are really a distraction, they don’t lead to liberation. It would be better to develop a more basic level of concentration and observe the arising and passing away of phenomena. That’s the kind of awareness that will lead to awakening.” (paraphrased, of course)
You can almost imagine the deflation that Mahaboowa must have felt!
So, this is where moment-to-moment concentration comes in. Rather than fixating awareness on an isolated aspect of experience (ie. the breath) and getting absorbed in an intensely pleasant mind-state, moment-to-moment concentration takes in the totality of present moment experience as it unfolds. Opening awareness in this way, observing the transient nature of all experience, leads to a taste of freedom within any state.
Moment-to-moment concentration is a clear knowing without preference. It simply focuses on the most predominant or the most vivid aspect of the present experience. As this most predominant element changes or gets replaced by other predominant elements, the awareness simply moves fluidly along with that shifting terrain.
In practice, it might look like this: one moment, the mind notices a sound. It observes the sound for a few moments. The sound passes away, and the predominant feature of the present is replaced by an itch. The mind observes the sensation of ‘itch’, but then it notices ‘irritation’. The irritation subsumes the sensation, so now, the mind-state of ‘irritation’ becomes the predominant object of awareness. But as soon as the mind shines the light of awareness on the ‘irritation’, the mind-state vanishes, leaving a tiny spot of pressurized sensation conventionally called ‘itch’. The ‘itch’ does its thing and fades. Now awareness notices the mind planning dinner. Awareness observes that thought until a twitch in the leg takes center stage. Etc, etc…. the mind simply flows from one thing to the next, moving freely, but stabilized in its own knowing.
Abide in that knowing, and, as Larry Rosenberg recommends, “Watch the entire show unfold.”
Originally published on October 7, 2011