Meditation Questions & Answers

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This section is dedicated to questions on Mindfulness Meditation from many students all over the world. If you have a question that you would like to ask you can ask it here: Contact Stephen
thankyou and take care,
Stephen Procter

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Difference Between Mindfulness, Awareness & Concentration

QUESTION from Dream: I still don't really understand the difference between Mindfulness and Concentration. Is there a difference? Thank you for your wonderful work

ANSWER: Mindfulness is a translation of the Pali word Sati. Sati literally means 'to remember', so Mindfulness is the quality of mind that remembers the meditation object, Mindfulness remembers "this is what I am experiencing right now", and knows "this is how I am relating to it".

The word Mindfulness as a translation can mean "to keep in mind, to hold in mind" The word mind in Mindfulness means the act of "looking after, paying attention to". Mindfulness can also be used in a sentence, if you are on a train platform and stepping off the train the announcement might say "please be mindful of the gap", this means to remember, to pay attention to the gap between the train and the platform or you may get hurt, in the same way Mindfulness has the meaning of protection, we should be Mindful of how we are relating to what we are experiencing in life or else we may get hurt.

Concentration is not something that we do but what happens when we are continually Mindful of the present. Normally our awareness is dispersed, jumping between the five senses - seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking, judging, liking disliking etc. In this dispersed state we are mentally agitated and unclear.

When we remember the object of our meditation continuously our awareness starts to concentrate, focusing in on the experience. For example, if we have a sweet drink we may dilute it with water because it is too sweet, we water it down. If we want to concentrate the drink again we do this by removing the water, the more water that is removed the more concentrated the drink becomes. In the same way to make our awareness concentrate we remove distraction from our mind, as we do this the awareness starts to concentrate until all distractions are suppressed, this is its function.

As the awareness concentrates and focusses on one thing it starts to become steady, still and the mind becomes clear. When our awareness is concentrated it suppresses the five hindrances to meditation - sensual desire, aversion, mental restlessness, mental dullness and doubt.

So Mindfulness is what we do, remember the present experience and concentration is what happens when we remember it continuously over time causing the awareness to concentrate and focus on its object.

QUESTION Continued: Ohhh.....that is a great explanation, thanks! So concentration is actually a prolonged (or deepened) mindfulness?

ANSWER: Concentration is not a prolonged or deepened Mindfulness but rather a prolonged and deepened awareness. Mindfulness and Concentration are two separate mental factors and can be experienced separately; they have two different functions and are not the same. Mindfulness is a factor that 'remembers the present", you will experience this when you wander off in a thought during meditation and suddenly realise "I had wandered off thinking", this coming back, this remembering the present is the function of Mindfulness.

Concentration is what happens to awareness, the knowing of an object, when the present is remembered, when there is no Mindfulness and we 'forget "I am aware of this", then awareness tends to become dispersed. When there is Mindfulness and we continuously remember the present experience, in particular "I am aware of this", then our awareness starts to concentrate on it, becomes focused and our attention becomes steady, mind becomes clear and still.

QUESTION Continued: OK, so now I am totally confused.... What is the difference between awareness and mindfulness? If there is a difference, then Awareness can be Mindful and Awareness can Concentrate? Does that make sense? And if so, can Awareness be Mindful AND Concentrated at the same time?

ANSWER: I am sorry that I confused you, it was not my intension. Just to clarify a few points:

1. Awareness and Mindfulness are two different mental factors

2. Mindfulness remembers awareness, it remembers “I am aware of this”

3. Awareness does not remember but ‘knows’ an object, it is conscious of it, awareness can be present without Mindfulness. As long as we are conscious we are always aware of something, but we are not always Mindful, we do not always know that we are aware.

For example: You will be going away on holidays soon and are walking down a street in a busy shopping centre, people all around you. A thought comes up about the holiday and you start thinking about it. You start fantasying about sitting on a tropical beach under a coconut tree sipping on a cool drink. While you are in this fantasy it feels real, you even have the emotional response of feeling good.

Then a friend notices you standing in the shopping centre and comes up and taps you on your shoulder, you come crashing back to reality, the day dream collapses with a jolt. You are suddenly aware again that you are standing on a path in a busy shopping centre with many people walking around you. Your friend asks you what you were thinking about and you can vividly recall the day dream.

Question? Were you aware when you were day dreaming? The answer is yes because you can clearly recall what you were thinking about.

Question? Were you Mindful when you were day dreaming? The answer is no because when you were in that day dream you had lost awareness with reality, with the present. You had no idea you were standing in a shopping centre with people all around you.

When we are meditating our training is to notice how our attention moves, to notice how we forget the present. For example: You are meditating, watching the breath as it comes in and out, Mindfulness is present because you can follow each breath clearly and you know that is what you are doing. Then suddenly you realise that you had wandered off in a thought, had forgotten the breathing.

While lost in the thought Mindfulness had disappeared, when you noticed that you had wandered off and forgotten the breath, Mindfulness is present again, it was Mindfulness that made you remember.

We are constantly remembering and forgetting awareness, that we are “aware of this”, this is the task of Mindfulness, its job is to remember. When we remember (be mindful of) what we are aware of and do this continuously over time, the awareness goes from being dispersed and starts to concentrate to one point, becomes focussed

take care
Stephen Procter

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Meditating With Pain

QUESTION from Betty: I've tried to do this a few times when I had pain in my stomach.. it is extremely difficult because when the pain is heavy the resistance is so strong that it pulls me away immediately and I can't keep it up more than a few seconds... is it better to practice with mild pain first?

ANSWER: Thank you for your question, firstly I would like to mention that pain can be a sign of an illness and not to use Mindfulness as a way of ignoring the symptoms, stomach pain can be a sign of something more serious developing, if this is ongoing see a doctor.

In your comment you mentioned the key point to being able to use Mindfulness to be with pain, you said “when the pain is heavy the resistance is so strong that it pulls me away immediately”, this is the key point. It is the resistance to the sensations that you are feeling that is the problem, the mental pulling away from the unpleasant feeling, rather than the feeling itself. When the resistance is present make it the object of your attention, not the sensations and use long deep gentle breaths to soften into the resistance.

Relaxing / softening into the feeling of resistance will take away its strength and in doing that the unpleasant sensations you are experiencing will be easier to be with. You can then swap your attention between relaxing into the sensations and softening into the resistance as it comes up. The resistance itself, although it feels powerful is mental aversion, it will generate its own unpleasant feelings in the body, separate from the pain, that drives you to react, to move.

Learning to be with and soften into these aversive feelings is the key, this nonparticipation with the aversion will start to decondition your relationship to it and over time its ability to make you move / react will weaken, you then are just left with the different sensations associated with the pain but the unpleasantness, the aversion to the sensations, is no longer present. It is this mental relationship to what you are experiencing that causes the feeling of pain, the not wanting.

Yes learning to be with less intense pain is a good start, you can start this training by sitting upright on a chair or the floor and making the determination to not move for that period of time. The longer you sit still the more uncomfortable your body may become.

Practice softening by using long deep gentle breaths, deep into your belly and every time you breathe out allow yourself to ‘soften into’ the sensations that you are feeling, also pay attention to any mental tightening / resistance that is building up to sitting still.

Once you can sit still and be comfortable doing nothing for a period of time you can apply the same technique to unpleasant sensations that you experience in your daily life, outside of formal meditation. In this way you will change your relationship to unpleasant feelings and be comfortable with experiences that you once before found unbearable.

take care
Stephen Procter

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Relaxing on the Out Breath

QUESTION from Peter: Enjoyed this class and felt the in and out breathing more relaxing, think this was due to what you said about on the out breath at the end making it longer by applying a sigh at the end. I did find though that the in breath was smoother than the outer breath due to extending at the end, though you said the outer breath should be smoother.

ANSWER: Gently relaxing into the end of the out breath will help develop concentration, it is just enough to 'know' the difference between the in-breath and out-breath. Once your mind settles down and you can sustain your attention on each breath you can stop the relaxing into the end of the out-breath.

This is usually something that you do not need to do, but something that happens naturally as you relax. Then to develop your mindfulness meditation start being aware of the sensations that appear with each breath, in particular paying attention to watching three stages - beginning, middle and end

take care
Stephen Procter

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