When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time on my own, staring off into space lost in thought. I remember that one day I was staring at the sidewalk for a while, I stopped daydreaming for long enough to become aware that there was an ant crawling in front of me. I tracked the ant as it meandered and I saw another ant cross its path. “Two ants! What are the chances?” I thought.
Then I looked around and realized that there were many tiny ants going in different directions in the little grooves in the pavement. “How didn’t I notice them before?” I thought. Sometime later I was looking at the sidewalk again and I remember thinking, “Are there ants here too?” At first it seemed like there weren’t, but then I let my eyes rest for a few moments, and, as if from nothing, they appeared again.
Even recalling this story now, I can sense the thrill and interest in discovering the hidden world of ants that seemed to appear whenever I remembered to look for it in the right way. Does this sound familiar? According to the Buddha’s teachings as recorded in the Pali Canon, these three factors – awareness, investigation, and the energy of being interested – are the first three factors that arise in the awakening process (four others follow), and they are the ones that we can intentionally cultivate. I suspect that almost everyone has experienced these three states at various points in their life, and when we meditate in this tradition, we are making this process intentional. Instead of following the ants, we turn our awareness, curiosity, and interest to the subtleties of the mindstream – it’s logic and it’s patterns – and the rest of the awakening process unfolds naturally.