Lou Carcasole B.Sc, M.B.A, M.Ed
Part 1 - Three Essential Qualities
A useful way to think about Mindfulness Meditation is to think of it in much the same way as you would think about any science. Because, in fact, that is exactly what it is. And, when you begin to practice Mindfulness Meditation, you are becoming a scientist.
The parallels between science and meditation are very strong. Science is about the investigation through observation and experimentation, of the physical world - that is to say, the objective reality around us. Mindfulness is about the investigation through observation and experimentation, of the internal, subjective world within us - the world of our own thoughts and feelings.
For good science, three things are essential: 1) sensory extending devices; 2) patience and discipline; and, 3) objectivity. With only our ordinary senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, we would have a fairly rudimentary or gross understanding of what the physical world was all about. As devices like microscopes, telescopes, sensitive radio scopes and so on were developed, they allowed us to look more deeply and to go farther in our exploration of the physical world, leading to discoveries that could never have happened with just the ordinary senses. As well, a scientist needs to train his or her attention and instruments on the phenomenon under investigation, and leave it there long enough to make meaningful observations. If the scientist were to continually shift his or her attention from one phenomenon of interest to another every few seconds, it is very unlikely that they would develop much of an understanding of any one of them. Finally, a scientist needs to have objectivity. Science is supposed to be a rather dispassionate discipline where the role of the scientist is to observe accurately, measure and record precisely, postulate hypothesis, and test their validity. Their role is to uncover the laws of nature through their science without judgment or preference.
Mindfulness Meditation is the same. The same qualities are required for good meditation. The first of these is the ability to look more deeply into subjective phenomenon. This is necessary if one is to gain deeper insights into its nature. However, unlike the scientist, mechanical tools like the microscope are not available to the meditator. He or she has to build his or her own. The way to do this is to develop the capacity of the ordinary senses to perceive – the ability to be aware. This is done through exercise. Much the same way as any muscle can be developed through regular, systematic exercise, so too can our ‘muscle’ of awareness be built up.
The second thing a good meditator requires is focus or concentration power. Much like the poor scientist who is to easily distracted, one of the first insights that new meditators have is the wandering or monkey mind. As they attempt to focus their awareness on a seemingly simple aspect of their subjective experience, such as the sensations associated with the breath, they discover just how difficult this is to do. The mind can hardly be still for even a few seconds. It wanders or jumps from thought to thought, from worrying about the past, to planning for the future, to fantasy. In fact, the mind is hardly ever focused on what is really taking place in the present moment. Without some level of concentration power to be able to observe what is going on long enough, deeper understandings of our subjective world are unlikely.
And, finally, like the good scientist, a good meditator needs to bring a quality of impartiality to the phenomenon under observation. We go through much of our life grasping for that which is pleasant and avoiding that which is unpleasant. This pushing and pulling against experience creates tension within us - tension that distorts our ability to clearly see what is really going on within and around us. For example we say that ‘Love is blind’ and we speak of ‘Blind rage’. These may be more extreme emotions, however, even more subtle levels of attachment or irritation (mild rage), or anxiety (fear) bring about some level of blindness or distortion. A meditator's task is to develop the quality or skill of equanimity - a stance of impartiality in observing what’s happening in our subjective experience without judgment and without reacting with grasping or aversion.
2011 © Lou Carcasole
Lou Carcasole has been practicing Mindfulness since 1987 and has been teaching Mindfulness in a variety of formats and settings since 1996. He can be reached at 416-512-1834 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Please continue reading the article The Meditator as a Scientist: Part 2: The Road to New Type of Learning