Other Mental Qualities in Meditation

Meditation involves lots of mental qualities, and you have to be clear about what they are, where they’re separate, and what each one of them can do. That way, when things are out of balance, you can identify what’s missing and can foster whatever is needed to make up the lack. If you’re feeling flustered and irritated, try to bring in a little gentleness and contentment. When you’re lazy, rev up your sense of the dangers of being unskillful and complacent. It’s not just a matter of piling on more and more mindfulness. You’ve got to add other qualities as well. First you’re mindful enough to stitch things together, to keep the basic issues of your meditation in mind and to observe things over time. Then you try to notice—that’s alertness—to see what else to stir into the pot.

It’s like cooking. When you don’t like the taste of the soup you’re fixing, you don’t just add more and more salt. Sometimes you add onion, sometimes garlic, sometimes oregano—whatever you sense is needed. Just keep in mind the fact that you’ve got a whole spice shelf to work with.

And remember that your cooking has a purpose. In the map of the path, right mindfulness isn’t the end point. It’s supposed to lead to right concentration.

We’re often told that mindfulness and concentration are two separate forms of meditation, but the Buddha never made a clear division between the two. In his teachings, mindfulness shades into concentration; concentration forms the basis for even better mindfulness. The four establishings of mindfulness are also the themes of concentration. The highest level of concentration is where mindfulness becomes pure. As Ajaan Lee, a Thai Forest master, once noted, mindfulness combined with ardency turns into the concentration factor called vitakka or “directed thought,” where you keep your thoughts consistently focused on one thing. Alertness combined with ardency turns into another concentration factor: vicara, or “evaluation.” You evaluate what’s going on with the breath. Is it comfortable? If it is, stick with it. If it’s not, what can you do to make it more comfortable? Try making it a little bit longer, a little bit shorter, deeper, more shallow, faster, slower. See what happens. When you’ve found a way of breathing that nourishes a sense of fullness and refreshment, you can spread that fullness throughout the body. Learn how to relate to the breath in a way that nourishes a good energy flow throughout the body. When things feel refreshing like this, you can easily settle down.