Pema Chodron teaches that "...we don't sit in Meditation to become good Meditators. We sit in Meditation so that we'll be more aware in our lives." We practice Meditation to get to know the person with whom we spend every day of our life. The basic practice involves the development of three core components: Concentration, Mindfulness, and Insight. Each of these three components is interrelated. Concentration and Mindfulness are used to cultivate a deepening attention, which then facilitates the realization of Insight.
Concentration involves receiving all of the domains of experience with mindful, open attention. We often begin with our breath and then move to include bodily sensation, feelings (pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral), thoughts, emotions and awareness itself. The practice of Concentration can generate feelings of calmness and peace. This, in turn, facilitates Mindfulness.
Mark Epstein states that "Mindfulness means being aware of exactly what is happening in the mind and body as it is occurring: what it reveals is how much of a flux we are in at all times." Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that "Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on the present moment and non-judgmentally." This is important because we often ignore the present moment in favor of thoughts about the past or future, and we keep ourselves distracted from the present moment in a myriad of ways.
This lack of awareness influences how we perceive and behave in the world. Mindfulness practice helps us to recognize and accept things just as they are in the present moment—which is the only moment that we actually have.
The cultivation of Concentration and Mindfulness are the foundational structures that permit or facilitate successful self-inquiry—or Insight. The Buddhists, in the practice of Vipassana, teach that the reason for developing concentration and mindfulness is to quiet the mind sufficiently to allow inquiry into the nature of self, and that this practice is healing. Furthermore, this practice is recognized as a catalyst for a profound change in the way that the self is experienced.
So why is this important? In his First Noble Truth the Buddha taught that there is suffering, referred to as Dukkha. A straightforward, and somewhat simplified description of this is that "in life things happen." There is birth, death, illness, bills to pay, deadlines to meet, and the navigation of relationships with other human beings. Suffering can be understood as what we add to what happens to us in our lives. In other words, how we perceive what happens to us and how we behave in relation to what happens to us.
Regardless of how rich or poor we are, or how smart we are, or our culture, country, religion, or politics—we are all subject to suffering. Through the practice of Mediation we begin to separate out the core events from our reactions to those events. We also begin to discover much about our conditioning in relation to the events of our lives.
We learn that we only have to be who we are and where we are in each moment of our life. This leads to an acceptance of the present moment, as it is. Through this process we develop a calm abiding that helps us to face whatever happens in our lives with greater patience and equanimity.
Life then becomes a much more satisfactory experience.