Meditation is the practice of being present. We practice being present through the cultivation of mindfulness and awareness. We cultivate mindfulness and awareness though conscious and sustained placement of attention on an object of meditation. In the practice of Shamatha meditation, we use the breath. The breath is an ideal meditation object because there is no breath outside of the present moment. Every breath is a present moment breath.
Mindfulness is the aspect of mind that places attention on the breath. Awareness is the aspect of mind that notices where we are and what we are doing. Together, mindfulness and awareness keep us in the present. Awareness notices when we get lost in thought. Mindfulness brings our attention back to the present. The point of awareness, and the point of meditation, is to be present for what is happening, without getting continually swept away by our thoughts or what is happening around us.
Meditation teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche says that “the breath represents being alive in the immediacy of the present moment.” We cultivate mindfulness by placing our attention repeatedly on the breath and we illuminate awareness by noticing what is happening in our experience, moment to moment. Mindfulness is about paying attention, very purposefully, in the present moment, without judgment. As we attend to the breath in meditation, we will be aware of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and sounds. That is perfectly okay! We are not trying to stop the mind from thinking or check out from our reality. We are simply cultivating a different relationship with our experience by allowing our experience to be what it is in the moment, without needing to do anything to change it or fix it. When we witness and allow, we begin to cultivate a presence that doesn’t get swept away by the movement of mind or the movement of life. We can be right here, right now.