The Awakening Factors

The regular practice of meditation develops a refined quality of attention to the micro-events of the present moment experienced through the senses. Attuned to the moment, we might notice different types of very pleasant mental qualities that arise and fall away. These are called the Awakening Factors. Mindfulness is the first of the Awakening Factors, the one that makes it possible to experience the others. Anchored in physical sensation — the rise and fall of the breath, sound, sight, smell, texture, etc. — without getting caught up in inner commentary about them, we are mindful. In this state we are aware of all that is present in this moment, and only this moment. Once we are mindful, other Factors arise. We might be more aware of one than another, but in general they seem to arise in the following order: Investigation of the dhammas arises out of mindfulness, because as we closely attend the sensory experience, we develop a wholesome curiosity that leads to insights into the nature of experience and natural phenomena. Energy for this investigation arises. This is not the restlessness we talked about when discussing the Hindrances, but an attunement to the energy of the natural world, a sense of purpose and wholesome effort, that feels quite wonderful and leads to… Joy, not the singular pleasure from a specific condition or outcome, but a non-specific quality of rejoicing in being alive in this moment, sensing a connection with all being, which allows for the arising of… Tranquility.  Being so fully in the moment, sensing our connection, there is nothing to fear, so we are able to be calm and at peace, which leads to a great ability for… Concentration, the ability to stay with a single-pointed focus, fully supported by all the factors, resulting in… Equanimity, a way of being in the world in any given moment, aware of all that arises and falls away, and able to hold it all with spacious awareness and a quality of understanding the nature of things. Equanimity allows us to hold both difficult situations and happy events in the same open embrace at the same time. Having said there is an order can be interesting and may be useful, but it could also be confusing and disruptive. In practice, simply focus on your intention to be mindful. Anchor your awareness in physical sensation, preferably finding one that is dependable, like the breath, that you can stay with. At the same time, set the intention to be compassionate with yourself and whatever causes and conditions arise — people making noises, situations not being ‘perfect’, your own judgments about your practice or the behavior of others. If we practice in a dedicated way, the Awakening Factors reveal themselves. If we try to achieve them, if we say ‘Feel joy, damn it!’ then obviously we will feel anything but joy. We toss ourselves into one or more of the mental qualities of the Hindrances: doubt, worry, restlessness, anger, desire, sloth and torpor. When we find ourselves in one of these states, we simply reset our intention to be mindful, anchored in physical sensation, and the intention to be compassionate with ourselves. You might notice that some of these Awakening Factors are antidotes to Hindrances we studied earlier. For example, Energy is the opposite of Sloth & Torpor. Tranquility is the antidote to Restlessness & Worry. So if you notice your mind state in one of the Hindrances, it helps to remember that there are more wholesome states accessible through mindfulness. Mindfulness is the prescription to bring us out of unwholesome mind states and into these wholesome ones. We learn about these states so that we recognize them when they arise. Resting in them, we have a tangible confirmation that we are doing our mindfulness practice in a way that reaps benefits. Not feeling the reaping so much? Not to worry. If you are giving yourself time to be quiet and focus your awareness on the rising and falling of the breath, releasing tension that arises, letting go of harsh inner commentary, that is all that is necessary. Let it be enough. Notice when your thoughts get caught up in the ‘not-enoughness’, the longing for joy or inner peace, the doubting you’ll ever achieve such lofty mind states. These are the Hindrances at work, creating a tangle of misery that doesn’t serve you. When you see them, rejoice in noticing them. That is mindfulness at work! Continue to be mindful, anchored in physical sensation. Do this with compassionate wise effort. If these Awakening Factors seem like a pipe dream, you are looking at the fantasy you have in your mind of what it would be to be awakened. This is not the search for a mythical unicorn. It is a practical, methodical means of coming into the present moment, the only moment that exists, the only moment we have to enjoy. The past and the present are thoughts in our heads — memories, regrets, nostalgia, fantasy, planning and fear. Don’t worry about awakening. Just sense in to this moment with compassion for all the ways your mind wants to distract itself. Focus on the senses — the breath rising and falling, for example. That is mindfulness. When you start noticing that there is no edge to the breath and see how the air is out there and in here until there doesn’t seem to be a dividing line, that is a form of investigating the dhammas. With it comes a sense of aliveness that is open yet purposeful. This is energy. When you sense that quality of edgelessness, of no separate self, from following the breath, joy arises. When you sense the boundless nature of this moment, fear falls away and there is an ease that creates tranquility, a quality of peace. In this open peaceful state, there is nothing to distract you from your concentration. You see with a remarkable clarity. And in this state, whatever events or conditions arise, you can hold them in an open and easeful way. This is equanimity. Daydreaming about when these states will be yours is a total waste of this precious moment right now revealing itself to you. If you feel tangled in a web of stories that can’t take you anywhere but away, again and again, from this very moment that offers everything, including the power to awaken you to joyous life, set the intention to be present, anchored in physical sensation. Set the paired intention to be compassionate with yourself when you realize that you haven’t been present. In the moment you realize you haven’t been present, you are present! Cause for celebration.

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