What Are the Awakening Factors?
This course is designed around the natural momentum of this sequence of seven wholesome mental factors. As we strengthen one factor, we may find that next in the series arises naturally.
It's mindfulness that sets the sequence of awakening factors in motion. Additionally, the other awakening factors can all be seen as dimensions of mindfulness. So mindfulness is pivotal. We turn towards our experience and begin to deepen in acceptance and understanding. We stop rushing outside of ourselves with craving and reactivity and allow body, heart, and mind into awareness more fully. When this happens the awakening factors can come forward as natural, wise responses.
When mindfulness is present we feel settled in the midst of experience. We become naturally curious. We notice what mind states are present and their results, we see the outcomes of our actions and habits. This is the awakening factor of investigation arising and it leads us to greater wisdom, freedom, and energy.
Through an interest in the mind and phenomena we start to feel energized. This can show up as a feeling of lightness in the body or mind. It can be persistence and effort, dedication. It can also refer to an increased willingness to be with our experience mindfully. Meditation can put us in touch with some beautiful and some very challenging experiences. This quality of persistence keeps us going even when the level of energy in the body and mind feels low.
It is through willingness to be with experience that we become appreciative, and so more sensitive to joy. We become grateful for moments in which there is no particular difficulty present. We find a deep-seated wonder that does not depend on outward conditions. We taste life wholeheartedly, and through this the mind, heart, and body feel refreshed and resourced.
The experience of joy has a settling effect on the mind and heart. We experience deep stillness even in the midst of a busy day. We relax the tendency to lean forward into the future or backwards into the past. We rest in the moment. Aware. At ease. This sense of quiet appreciation allows the heart to settle even more.
Calmed and soothed through abiding in tranquility, the mind begins to unify. Those parts of us that have been scattered by the sensory world, by busyness and distress, come back into coalescence. We begin to feel whole again, and to heal. Our intentionality and steadiness of mind returns. The mind becomes pliant and wieldy: well-suited to inquiry. We feel gathered and collected. A mind that's unified in this way is a gateway to liberating insight, to wisdom.
It's said that peace is the highest happiness. The fruit of wisdom, of liberating insight, is equanimity. And this is often understood to be the goal of the Buddhist path – nibbana itself. Life, by its nature, is uncertain and unreliable. But as our practice of the awakening factors gathers momentum we develop a deep understanding of ourselves and of change, and out of this understanding flowers equanimity. We cease clinging. The fires within cool. There is peace at last.