We have come to the last 3 factors of awakening. These 7 factors are qualities of mind that unfold as we go deeper in our practice. In the last frame we explored the role of inquiry, joy and energy:

Recap:
📖 Factors of awakening part 2: Inquiry, Joy, Energy

Factor #5: Tranquility

The quality of calm and tranquility is an important marker on the path. Without this factor, the mind cannot rest into the awake attentiveness of concentration. If we try to bring about concentration through force and willpower, we will tire the mind and become stressed. If, however, the energy can be transmuted to calm it will lead to effortless concentration.

The factor of calm brings other virtues as well. People rooted in this awakening factor are able to stay centered in the midst of upheaval and turbulent times (the seventh factor of equanimity).

We practice to become aware when the awakening factor of calm is present in us and when it is absent.
We practice to know how to bring it about and how to bring it to completion
.

🧘 Guided practice – exploring the awakening factor of tranquility:

🧘 Guided practice – using the 4 levels of the breath to calm the body:

🧘 Guided practice – shifting to choiceless awareness

In this practice, the breath goes to the background as we rest the mind on the stillness that perceives everything. Over time, we practice to maintain that awareness as we go about our day.

“What we are looking for is what is looking”
– Wei Wu Wei


Factor #6: Concentration

The importance of concentration is emphasised in many different ways across most wisdom traditions in the world. They all seem to agree on the importance of a focused mind.

We practice to become aware when the awakening factor of concentration is present in us and when it is absent.
When it’s not there, how can we arouse it? How can we bring it to completion?

Wu wei

Trying hard is exactly what gets in the way of true concentration. Effort and desire for concentration often increases agitation and does little to focus the mind. This points to the importance of the last factor of calm and tranquility. A calm body and mind enables effortless concentration and opens us up to spiritual insight.

Sila is the foundation

Contemplating on skilful and wholesome action serves as a foundation for concentration. As Jack Kornfield says:

“It is hard to concentrated if we spend the whole day killing and stealing”

2 ways to achieve concentration

In the path of mindfulness, there are two approaches to cultivating concentration. The first one is to develop one-pointedness of mind by staying with an object. Each time the mind wanders, we bring it back to our object of meditation. This is much like strengthening a muscle of attention. This is known as the way of shamatha and is designed to enter into states of meditative absorption (dhyana).

The other approach to developing concentration is by letting the objects of awareness change while remaining aware of the continuous witness. This type of practice is a way to gain insight by contemplating the changing nature of phenomena. This is the way of vipashyana.

Thoughts are not the problem

Shamatha and vipashyana are two qualities of the mind developed in tandem. They are two elements of a single path. While cultivated through distinct practices and instructions, they both share the understanding that we are not trying to get the mind to stop thinking. We make no effort to stop thoughts. If we are disturbed by thoughts, we have a problem with our attitude. When we can acknowledge thoughts without judgement, then we are in the realm of mindfulness.

🧘 Guided practice – mindfulness of breath:

🧘 Guided practice – cultivating concentration:


Factor #7: Equanimity

When concentration is developed, it has the power to keep the mind secluded from hindrances. As the quality of concentration deepens, it leads to equanimity. This final factor has far reaching consequences, both for how we live in the world and for the development of insight and liberation of the mind. In fact, the entire path to liberation (“the noble eightfold path”) unfolds on the foundation of equanimity (“the middle way”).

A taste of liberation

Equanimity is characterised by evenness of mind and has the quality of being unshakable, balanced, neutral, equanimous and unmoved in the face of pleasure and pain. From this normalcy of mind, a whole new world can open up. It makes room for all the other awakening factors without being swept away by clinging to them. It has a balancing effect on the mind by preventing excess and deficiency of mental states. It enables responsiveness and effortless action. From this place, we are no longer run by reactivity. This is a taste of freedom.

Being in the midst of life

Everything in our lives keep changing. At times, everything goes our way. At other times, everything seem to go against us. Without equanimity, it is easy to become reactive and feel like the victim of circumstances.

🔍 Inquiry:

The following extremes are two sides of the same coin. Reflect on how they affect you. What is your reaction as they occur in your life? How do they make you feel? Is there clinging and aversion? What would it mean to be equanimous in these situations?

Gain/loss
To what extent does your happiness depend on outcomes that you cannot control?

Praise/blame
To what extent do you let other people’s views determine your happiness?

Fame/disrepute
To what extent is your sense of self-worth determined by how other people see you?

Pleasure/pain
To what extent are you driven by the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain? In what way does this condition your hopes, fears and behavior? What would it mean to meet them both with equanimity?

“Gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, pleasure and pain – these all come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a great tree in the midst of them all”

Impartial love

The forth brahmavihara is a heart practice focused around equanimity. It teaches us how to look at all beings impartially, undistorted by judgment. It points to a love that embraces all without exceptions and conditions.

Recap:
📖 Cultivating love

Wisdom

Equanimity arises naturally as we go deep into meditative awareness.

“The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences”
– Jiànzhì Sēngcàn

It enables us to feel the three characteristics of phenomena experientially – on a macro level as well as in the subtle subjective experience. We begin to shift our attention from the level of changing phenomena to awareness itself. As we cultivate this awareness, there is no place for identification to take root.

Recap:
📖 6 senses and the freedom from fetter

🧘 Guided practice – equanimity:

🧘 Guided practice – vipashyana meditation on vedana:


Continue: