An Insight into Concentration and Mindfulness

This week I gave a dharma talk on Concentration and Mindfulness, two distinct aspects of meditation training that help cultivate an awakened heart and mind. Concentration can be seen as the lens of a camera.  Mindfulness is the film ... or now the ‘chip’ that notices and records what is there.  I had a great insight into this recently.

This last weekend I was at a Quaker wedding held in an unheated Quaker Meetinghouse in north central Pennsylvania.

My niece Laurel Mutti married Kaustubh Patwardhan as the Quakers say,  ‘in the presence of family and friends’.

Kaustubh and Laurel

I was asked to be a photographer, so I went at it, armed with my my wonderful 70-230 and 17-75 lenses and a backup camera.  I shot about 500 shots and 20 video clips.

Through the day and into the evening I was focused on ‘my job,’ framing shots, monitoring the light, trying to get a balance of images and visually telling the story in a way the newly married couple and their families would like.  I knew I got some good shots and I had a great time.

Being the photographer, though, I am familiar with a sense of being somewhat removed and in the role of the observer and witness.

It wasn’t until I edited the images on Monday that I discovered a whole emotional side to the images I’d recorded.  A squeeze of a hand, an inter-generational hug, genuine laughter between old friends, the sensitivity and caring present through the event touched me in unexpected ways.

Concentration is our capacity to focus.  Mindfulness is that which monitors and registers our relationship to whatever is in the lens.

I’d been concentrated, but I came to recognize I’d not been all that aware of my relationship to what I was focused on and how I was impacted by everything I was viewing through the lens.

Meditation is 1) Noticing what is happening while it's happening and 2) Noticing our relationship to what is happening.  Concentration and Mindfulness are two wings of the practice that work in concert ... inevitably bringing us into greater aliveness.  The key to cultivating mindfulness is to relax and deeply receive the experience of the moment.

That is the art of living.