One Thing at a Time, an essay by Andrew Olendzki [from his collection, Unlimiting Mind, published by Wisdom Publications/Boston]
Continued from previous post…
Of course being deeply aware of what we are doing is the very crux of the Buddhist teaching, which is why the practice of meditation is so important for unifying and consolidating the mind. The Buddha also said, “I know of no single thing more conducive to great welfare than a developed mind” [AN 1.4]. Concentration practice, known as samadhi, consists of gathering together (the prefix sam-) and placing (the root dha) the mind upon (the middle a) an object of the senses or upon a mental object. We do this all the time reflexively, but in Buddhist practice we are invited to do so with deliberate intention, with sustaining energy, and with consistency over multiple mind moments.
It is natural for the mind to resist such discipline, and to wander off to any aspect of experience that is new, unusual, or apparently more interesting. We did not survive in nature by ignoring incoming stimuli, and like birds or chipmunks are more accustomed to glancing around constantly, attentive to both threat and opportunity. But we are no longer crouching in a hostile natural environment, and the states to which our mind restlessly turns in the meditation hall are generally internally constructed threats and imaginary opportunities. The cultivation of mental focus, the consistent return to a primary object, and the settling into ever deeper states of tranquility has the effect of gradually reining in the mind’s random wandering and settles it down in a way that gathers and consolidates the power of awareness.
Each moment of consciousness is a precious gift. Awareness itself is the primary currency of the human condition, and as such it is inherently of immense value and deserves to be spent carefully. Merely sitting quietly in a serene environment, letting go of the various petty disturbances that roil and diminish consciousness, and experiencing as fully as possible the poignancy of this fleeting moment – this is an enterprise of deep intrinsic value, an aesthetic experience beyond words. The more unified, stable, luminous, and attentive the mind is at this moment, the more profound the experience.