Concentration vs. Mindfulness
Updated: Apr 26, 2021
We are meditating. But what are we doing exactly? Concentrating or being mindful? Are we concentrating our awareness on our breath? Or are we being mindful of whatever arises?
What is the difference? When do you use which one?
Concentration or single pointedness of mind. Learning how to stop – instead of following mental habits and/or running after one thing or another. Thereby, leading to tranquillity, calmness and ease.
Mindfulness or special insight or clear seeing into the true nature of things leads to awakening and liberation.
In practice, during meditation we work on cultivating both of these qualities. When we sit in mediation, it is mindfulness that is aware of the object that we focus on. Concentration allows us to hold our focus on the chosen object. Mindfulness is also what notices when concentration falters and the attention starts wandering.
Concentration is exclusive – we only focus on the object of meditation (e.g. breath, mantra, visual image, etc.). It is like a highly focused laser. These concentrated mental states bring us rest and calm. But (!) they can become problematic, if one uses them to escape from reality, only to then return back to it without any true insights gained.
Mindfulness is inclusive – it excludes nothing. Choiceless bare attention. Observing any phenomena arising – any change arising. It is like a floodlight, illuminating whatever there is to see. It is non-reactive and non-judgmental, whatever arises is just being accepted without interpreting, evaluating, judging or rejecting. This leads to insights into the nature of things.
An example: A car alarm goes off.
Concentration: One would try to block out the noise and return to the chosen object of meditation.
Mindfulness: Simply notice the car alarm, as well as anything that arises in your mind (e.g. irritation, annoyance); observe any changes/variations in the car alarm sound and associated thoughts that arise.
Tip: Start with practicing concentration in your meditations. Choose an object that you want to focus all your attention on. Mindfulness is the more difficult of the two to cultivate. Without developing some concentration, it would be very hard to see whatever arises without the mind becoming involved (thinking, commenting, judging…).