Last Sunday evening, a group of us meditated and exchanged about what the Buddha meant by the word “samadhi” — a word usually translated as “concentration.” I don’t know about you, but I dreaded the word and the state that I thought went with it. I associated concentration the kind of grim mental effort I made in college, usually the night before a test or a paper was due and fueled by lots of coffee and cigarettes and fear. In meditation, I believed I strongly preferred mindfulness, a sky-like state of awareness that would alight on things like a butterfly and move on. But turns out that those beautiful moments of alighting on a sensation or a sound were moments of samadhi.
It was revelation to discover that samadhi happens when we are free from stress and strain. In his classic teaching on meditation, The Satipatthana Sutra, the Buddha describes concentration as being “free from desires and discontent with regard to the world.” It the blossoming of attention and joy that can appear when we are fully present. Ajahn Sucitto, an English monk in the Thai Forest tradition, describes the joy that comes when we let go of all the tensions and thoughts that keep us from being fully present (quote via Mindfulness by Joseph Goldstein):
“Receiving joy is another way to say enjoyment, and samadhi is the act of refined enjoyment. It is based in skillfulness. It is the careful collection of oneself into the joy of the present moment. Joyfulness means there’s no fear, no tension, no ‘ought to.’ There isn’t anything we have to do about it. It’s just this.”