4. Subtle and Unbroken Application of the Method
Just as before, you are able to maintain concentration on counting breaths without interruption, but at this point scattered thoughts are now greatly reduced. Distractions associated with the sensory environment pose almost no problem. Occasionally, wandering thoughts invented by the mind will come into consciousness and then slide away. To you, however, their presence and subsequent rippling effect remain peripheral to the main stream of mindfulness. In this respect, diagram four represents a more subtle stage of concentration that diagram three, and awareness is now quite clear and securely settled on the method. When a wandering thought does arise, you are clearly aware of it, from beginning to end, but the stream of concentration is too deep and strong for these eddies of thought to divert it.
From my own personal experience with following these steps and putting them into practice, this step happens from step three so subtle and silent that unless your awareness is really concentrated and open you won't even notice that you are at step four.
Last month I gave the example from my own experience with step three of clearly remembering when I first noticed when wandering thoughts would arise and go from being in the front seat to the back seat of my awareness. However, as I continued in my practice, these thoughts would arise but momentarily and then fade just as quickly as they came. Sometimes they wouldn't even be a thought, just a subtle vibration into my awareness from the energy of the thought arising and then falling away. I know that probably sounds weird, but once you experience it, you'll understand. As Master Sheng- Yen says, the presence and subsequent rippling effects of thoughts 'remain peripheral to the main stream of mindfulness'. They do not take the front seat or the back seat of your awareness, they remain on the fringes of it and can do nothing to divert your concentration on the method.
What I want to add here is that when this step starts to manifest in your life OFF the cushion, it really, I mean REALLY helps with your day to day activities. The things that you do become more enjoyable and are completed from start to finish with such ease and precision that you won't believe it! You become more efficient in dealing with your interactions with others as well. You listen deeper and with a clarity you didn't even know you possessed. And when called upon to be of some assistance, you are able to assist with a wisdom that helps you respond to what is needed for that moment. Another benefit is that the majority of the things that used to nag the heck out of you no longer do. They don't go away. They are still there. That doesn't change, but your relationship with them DOES, and this is a major difference.
Now, we've covered a great deal of ground in the last couple of months! Stick with it! Practice the steps. Go back and review what you have already went through. Be completely serious about what you are doing. It's your life. What can be more serious than that?
In gassho, Horaku