There are two words that you come across as you travel the meditative path. One is samadhi and the other samatha—both Pali words. My understanding is that samatha refers to any training in calming the mind, calming anything that is agitated in mind and in body. Samadhi is often seen as being the fruit of this calming: the mind that can sustain both intention and attention.
Both words are frequently or mostly preceded by the word samma, which means right or wise attentiveness. It has its roots in ethics and has the aspiration of freeing the mind, freeing the heart from agitation, and traveling a path of awakening, of liberation.
More accurately, the word samadhi, and samatha too, really translates as “to gather together, or to collect together.” The image that is sometimes used in the text is one of gathering harvested corn or wheat and bringing it together into a kind of oneness, a unified whole. I think of this as the integration, or the unification, of body, mind, and present moment. And I think as we reflect on our own experience, we see that this unification, or this integration, is often absent—that our body is in one place, our mind is occupying some other place, and the present moment is frequently forgotten.
The image that I often refer to is the image of a very skilled sheepdog. In Wales, they have these sheepdogs that are sent out in the autumn to gather together the sheep that are spread over the hillsides or mountainsides, collecting them from the pastures that have dried out and no longer nourish them. The sheepdog never intimidates or harms the sheep in this process. But he gathers them together and moves the sheep from these pastures that are worn out and guides them to pastures where they will flourish and thrive.
In the practice of developing samadhi, we are doing much the same within the landscape of our own minds and hearts. We’re gathering and collecting our attention from places—from pastures—where we don’t thrive: the fields of rumination, distractedness, obsession, and proliferating thoughts, stories, and narratives where we too often simply become exhausted. We’re learning to gather our attention from those fields and guide our attention into this mind and body in a unifying way. This is the field, or pasture, where we do begin to thrive.
We’re guiding our attentional capacity into the fields of calmness, mindfulness, and stillness. Into the landscape of heart and mind where we flourish, where there is creativity, where there is appropriate responsiveness, and where there is a way of inhabiting the moment that we find ourselves in.
This is much more than just concentration. I think concentration, for many people, has associations or the real experience of something that is forced or driven. We might remember times in our childhood when we’ve been commanded to pay attention and to concentrate. Samadhi is something much more than this.
Excerpted from Christina Feldman’s Tricycle Meditation Month Video, “What Is Samadhi?” Watch the full video here.