Now as I said a few moments ago one is never actually in balance. Instead what happens is you become more and more adept at detecting imbalances, and are able to address them earlier and earlier. So there’s more continuity and less huge fluctuation. And it feels like you’re doing very little, but a great deal is being accomplished.
So we rely on awareness for the detection of imbalance. In particular, meditation, we have two components of attention. The first, and here I’m using the Mahayana definitions which are different from the Theravadan definitions. Two components of attention are: mindfulness and awareness. Not the big awareness, the direct awareness, just awareness.
Mindfulness here is defined as being present with the object of attention. So if that’s your breath you’re present with your breath. If it’s a book your attention is resting on the book. If it’s nature of mind you’re experiencing nature of mind.
Mindfulness is the quality that you always start with. And basically you establish a connection with mindfulness when you are able to rest on the breath for three or more breaths in a row. You have then experienced mindfulness. So it’s not some mystical magical quality. Very ordinary quality just a certain steadiness in attention.Audioclip
The second quality, awareness, is defined as knowing what’s going on. And all of you have experienced this in your meditation. Attention becomes steady and there you are resting say with the breath. At the same time you are aware of all that other stuff which is very useful, because it is in that broader awareness that you’re able to detect whether things are in balance or not. “Am I going to sleep. Am I thinking?” etc.
In our practice we get more and more adept at detecting when we’re moving away from clear stable attention. We can move away in one direction, lapsing into dullness; in the other directions lapsing into busyness.
The five elements allow us to bring a higher level of attention to the whole matter of balance. So here the steadiness of attention would be like the earth element. Clarity is the water element. Knowing is the fire element. The dynamic quality is the air element. And the indefinable open quality is the void element.
Now it’s not particularly helpful to sit while you meditate analyzing the quality of your attention like crazy. It takes you out of the practice basically. A lot of us have this problem. We sit there and we have this running commentary on how we’re doing. Anybody else know that one? “You’re doing fine now, just keep going, yep, good [laughter]. Not! You’re getting a little dull, yep. No, don’t follow that thought. That’s it! Good!” [Laughter]. It’s just thought.
We can do the same thing in all areas of our lives. In our relationships the support of nurturing quality is earth. The flow of emotional energy back and forth: water. The passion interest, etc: fire. The ideals that you aspire to: air. And the space in which all this takes place: void.