In meditation practice, we discover that our mind is fundamentally resilient and able to work with challenging situations. In order to meet these challenges, we have to go beyond our distractions and habitual patterns and see what is really happening in our minds. We do this by practicing the two main aspects of meditation: mindfulness and awareness. When these two are skillfully combined, we can experience every moment with a spacious state of mind.
The cultivation of mindfulness involves training in bringing the mind back to the present. We use the breath as a kind of anchor, even though it is constantly moving. The movement of the breath is never the same, and it can be very freeing to pay attention to this. There will never be another moment like this moment ever again. If you really get that, it’s so powerful! So pay attention: this moment is your life; this moment is the only moment you have.
Paying attention to this moment requires training because it’s our habit to be distracted. We are always practicing something or other. Should we practice distraction, or mindfulness? We can choose to train in being mindful, in bringing our minds back to this present moment. The breath is the object of meditation, the focal point—it’s what we bring the mind back to. We generally take the breath for granted, but if we didn’t breathe, our life would be over. We can appreciate, be grateful for this breath that truly is our gift of life. So let’s keep training in being mindfully here in the present moment.
What is Awareness Practice?
Awareness practice is a little bit different, like taking a step further. The work of awareness is to see what’s going on without reacting to it. We look deeply into this mind and see what it’s producing. Without the foundation of being able to stay in the present, we can’t see what’s happening because there is too much pull from distractions. But once we’ve committed to the training process of stably establishing our minds in the present moment, we’re able to see all of our habit patterns. We see all the craziness and neurosis that the mind produces and that we’re caught up in and fooled by.
This mindfulness-awareness continuum allows us to take a step back, observe the mind, and not identify with it. We don’t have to get involved and identify with every thought that appears in the mind. When we’re more aware, we see that our tendency is to believe in and identify with our thoughts. As we continue to train and remember to step back and just let whatever is happening happen without identifying with it or doing something about it, the mind begins to relax. With awareness, we’re seeing the habits of mind more and more clearly. And when we see, we become free of the hold these patterns have on us.
How does meditation create resilience?
One of the great benefits of practicing mindfulness and awareness is that we become more flexible and more resilient. How does this happen? It happens because training in mindfulness by focusing on the breath keeps our mind in the present, and training in awareness allows us to clearly see our mind’s patterns and let go. We let go of whatever it was that took us away from experiencing the present moment felt experience. We let go of whatever we were caught up in, whatever we were being distracted by.
In this present moment who knows what can happen? This present moment is a delightful surprise, if we’re open to discovering what the possibilities are. Through practicing meditation, instead of feeling like we have to think about and control everything, we’re inspired to relax more; to let go and see what happens. We’re willing to look at the possibilities and the options. It’s a huge shift, and it happens thanks to mindfulness and awareness practice. Meditation teaches us that we can afford to relax, we can afford to be present. Even if something difficult happens, we can bounce back. We call this gaining resilience.
Resilience is the quality of not giving up, no matter how many times we fall back into a pattern of grasping and tension. We recognize it and think: oops! I’ve grasped, got tense, forgotten my mindfulness practice and got lost in thoughts! I’m going to keep going, I’m not going to be discouraged by this. We can recognize that familiar feeling and come back to the practice. When we’re back in the present, we never know what’s going to happen–anything is possible! Anything can happen! And we’re willing to be with whatever is going to happen, in the moment, and enjoy it.