The first step towards enlightenment is to develop both concentration and mindful awareness to a certain minimum level.
- Concentration is developed to the degree that that you can rest your attention on any object that you choose, with whatever breadth or narrowness of focus that you choose, and your attention will remain on that object more or less effortlessly for as long as you choose.
- Mindful awareness is developed to the degree that there is no dullness in your observation of the object of attention, so that it is continually observed with intensity and clarity of awareness.
The stability of attention referred to above is associated with a level of physical pliancy such that meditation can be sustained for very long periods with no physical discomfort. This level of concentration is what is referred to as ‘access concentration’, because this is the same level of concentration that has been designated as ‘Upacara ‘ in the commentaries. This level of concentration is described as ‘access’, because it can provide either access to deeper absorptive states of concentration (jhana), or to Insights, both mundane and supramundane, depending upon how it is used.
With a good training method, guidance, and diligent daily practice, the development of concentration and mindful awareness to this point seems to take about six months to a year, although there is a lot of variation due especially to the factor of diligence in practice. The method for this part of the training involves meditating on the sensation of the breath while systematically progressing through the successive stages of:
- developing uninterrupted continuity of attention
- gaining skill in controlling the tendency for the attention to move towards distracting thoughts and sensations
- overcoming gross and subtle dullness
- developing skill in controlling the degree of focus (broad or narrow) of the attention
- pacifying the activity of the mind until one-pointedness is achieved
- practicing one-pointedness until it becomes effortless
- develping skill in quickly entering effortless one-pointed concentration