Balance in Meditation
by Ven. Pannyavaro
As a meditator it is necessary to have the ability to
manage and adjust your own practice. Maintaining your
balance in meditation is a vital part of managing the
meditation experience. It is a matter of harmonizing
three factors: //effort//, //concentration// and
//awareness//. Too much effort makes the mind restless;
while too much concentration has the effect of narrowing
and restricting the awareness. Effort and concentration
are active factors while awareness is passive. As you
practice, keeping in mind the characteristics of these
three meditation factors and applying them appropriately
will allow you to adjust, harmonize and keep your
practice in balance.
For meditative concentration
to be right, the type has
to be appropriate to the mode of meditation. In Serenity
Meditation (//Samatha//) the meditator fixes on a single
object, ignoring secondary objects to become absorbed in
one object. While in Insight Meditation (//Vipassana//)
the practice is a moment-to-moment knowing of various
objects as they arise without fixing on any particular
object. Actually, in insight meditation it is really a
matter of an //intensification// of awareness rather
than concentration. So, if you wish to change the
meditation mode, from Serenity to Insight, any fixing or
clinging to an object has to be dropped to allow for an
open, moment-to-moment awareness of whatever is
predominant in your experience.
During insight meditation
practice, a state of
receptivity is cultivated. So because of its restrictive
nature it is not useful to induce concentration as such,
rather sufficient concentration will naturally arise by
being //continuous// with the attention. There is no
problem of having too much awareness, as there is with
the factors of effort and concentration. It is not
something that you can overdo, it is more likely that
there is //not enough// awareness to help balance the
factors of effort and concentration. So, really it's
more important to put the effort into maintaining the
awareness. Further, continuity of attention also
produces calm and a 'sweetening of the mind', so there
can be the same experience of wholesome mind-states
similar to the concentration meditations, but without
restricting the meditative attention in any way.
Ways of relating to the meditation experience to help
//Witnessing your experience
(develops a Witnessing
Noting //impartially// whatever
you are experiencing,
while you are experiencing it - //will lead to
spaciousness in the mind//.
Rather than seeking gratification of wishes, impulses,
desires, there has to be at least some degree of
"non-clinging" that is, giving up, to create the space
//The Removal of the Censor
(dropping the critical
An attitude of acceptance of all thoughts, emotional
feelings and sensations into awareness without
discrimination or selection - which is //an uncensored
experience// - //free of judgments//.
//An Attitude of Neutrality
(i.e., no posturing or
An attitude of neutrality that is restricted to the bare
registering of physical and mental events without
posturing or positioning - //therefore not interfering
with the experience (non-reactive awareness)//.
(allows intimacy, which is to
be close to the experience)//
Awareness practice is not about controlling the
experience but being sensitive to and intimate with what
is observed from a //place of receptivity//. That is,
being open and allowing to whatever happens to comes
into the awareness (//choiceless awareness//).
An image often used to describe the practice of
awareness is that of walking a tightrope. In order to do
so, you must necessarily pay attention to the balance.
In meditation practice, this applies especially to how
you are relating to your experience. Reaching out to
grasp the object (//attaching//) or pushing it away
(//rejecting//) are both reactions that are unbalancing.
Keeping your balance is developing a mind that does not
cling or reject, like or dislike and is without
attachment or condemnation. Equipoise and 'on-looking'
equanimity in the face of life's inevitable stress and
conflict is to practice the Buddha's //Middle Way//.
Developing the ability to
adjust and manage your effort
in practice is essential. A certain effort is involved
in developing moment-to-moment awareness, but it is not
the effort to attain anything in the future. The effort
is to stay in the present, within the present moment
context. Just paying attention with equanimity to what
is happening from moment-to-moment.
The Buddha gave an example
of just how attentive we
should be. He told of a person who was ordered to walk
through a crowd with a water jug full to the brim
balanced on his head. Behind him walked a soldier with a
sword. If a single drop was spilt the soldier would cut
off his head! That is the quality of attention needed.
So you can be sure that the person with the jug walked
Yet, it has to be a //relaxed//
awareness. If there is
too much force or strain the least jostling will cause
the water to spill. The person with the jug has to be
loose and rhythmic, flowing with the changing scene, yet
staying attentive in each moment.
This is the kind of care
and precision we should take in
practising insight meditation, being relaxed yet alert.
In this way, the training helps to maintain your balance
and the ability to live in harmony with others.