The last principle that we’ll consider for developing Right Mindfulness is a list called the seven factors of awakening. They lay out a meditative path towards enlightenment and are often paired with (opposed to) the hindrances. We start our meditation (and general) practice with becoming aware of the hindrances; the enlightenment factors can help us to abandon the hindrances. The seven factors are:
In Bhikkhu Bodhi’s classic book, The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to End Suffering (https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html#ch6) he writes:
When they first spring up, the enlightenment factors are weak, but with consistent cultivation they accumulate strength. Mindfulness initiates the contemplative process. When it becomes well-established, it arouses investigation, the probing quality of intelligence. Investigation in turn calls forth energy, energy gives rise to rapture, rapture leads to tranquillity, tranquillity to one-pointed concentration, and concentration to equanimity. Thus the whole evolving course of practice leading to enlightenment begins with mindfulness, which remains throughout as the regulating power ensuring that the mind is clear, cognizant, and balanced.
Unlike the Buddha’s eightfold path, the enlightenment factors are generally experienced and developed sequentially. With the eightfold path, we can start anywhere and whatever element we’re working with will lead us on to one or more of the other elements.
The first few factors of awakening are probably familiar to us if we have a meditation practice. We always start with and come back to mindfulness. If we drift off from mindfulness, we take up investigation to get back on track. What’s actually happening right now? By staying with this process we are arousing energy, which deepens our mindfulness. We can shift into a non-standard mind state – calmer, more centered – and from there into deeper states of concentration.
This may seem out of reach as a practice, and it’s not the one we ought to start with. Without undertaking the Buddha’s ethical principles, concentration becomes impossible; we’re too agitated by our desires and aversions. Calm and confidence come from knowing that we are acting on our best intentions, not harming ourselves or others, and looking with compassionate eyes.
This leads us to the last element of the Buddha’s eightfold path, Right Concentration.