Bhavana, or mental development, is not exclusive to the ‘meditation’ cushion, and can be practiced anytime. When we are sitting on the cushion, we use breath as the primary object to concentrate the mind. However, breath is only one of the observables that can be used as a meditation object. For instance, we can choose to use the sense of sight to focus our eyes on an object. If the mind develops an awareness of the object the eyes are seeing, the mind is present and concentrated. The same is true when we hear, smell, taste, feel or think something. Any object we can think of can be used as the meditation object.
As and when the mind perceives secondary objects, such as sound, odor and thought unrelated to the primary object, we note that perception as hearing, smelling, thinking, put them aside, and return to the primary object of concentration. Each time we note these distractions, we effectively stop the mind wandering away from our primary object. This makes the mind concentrated, aware, and tranquil. As the mind becomes more developed, taints, defilements, and unwholesome states start to diminish. It is only then that the mind is prepared for meditation.
To take what we practice on the cushion into our daily lives, one of the effective techniques is walking meditation. This entails that during walking, we use the rising and falling of the feet as the meditation object. The eyes are kept open, unlike when we sit on the cushion, so that there are more sensual perceptions to contend with. Just as in our sitting practice, we note all phenomena arising in our mind, put them aside, and return to the primary object.
When we cling to the distractions, the mind reverts to dwelling in the past, devoid of awareness of the present moment. It is only when the mind is present that we can fully understand the nature of phenomena and insights can arise.