Now, how do we put all these Seven Factors of Awakening together? In a practical sense you’ve probably already noticed that some of them are quite active, energetic qualities, and others are more calming. There are three active ones: investigation of dhamma, energy and joy. Three others are calming: tranquillity, concentration and equanimity. And mindfulness watches over them all.
First we become familiar with the whole range of these qualities. As you know, they’re in the mind already – we all have some tranquillity, some concentration, some investigation and so on. When we recognize what is truly tranquillity and not just passivity, the difference between equanimity and indifference, we can learn how to cultivate those positive qualities. Recognizing them as Factors of Awakening, we give them some emphasis, some cultivation and development, so that they become prominent qualities for spiritual practice.
With mindfulness as guardian, we observe the particular condition of mind on any occasion and adapt the practice accordingly. It is not a good time to develop tranquillity when the mind is in a dull state, a sluggish state, not very active. You’ve got enough ‘tranquillity’ already. When the mind is sluggish and dull, it may be a good time to develop the more active qualities. If the mind is tired or low in energy, it may be time to develop the factor of energy. If the mind is depressed or down, maybe joy is the quality to develop. When the mind is dull, muddled and unclear, it may be appropriate to develop investigation of dhamma, the investigation of phenomena, and bring up reflective thinking so you can investigate the nature of things and clear the mind.
Conversely, when the mind is active and excited, tranquillity may be a good quality to help balance it. When the mind is scattered or restless, perhaps that’s a good time to develop concentration. Concentration provides a boundary, a focus. When the mind is doubting or worried, equanimity is a good balance for it.
The Seven Factors of Awakening come together as what we call samatha-vipassana, calm and insight meditation. That’s what the Seven Factors actually create. Calm meditation is primarily energy, joy, tranquillity concentration and equanimity. Insight practice is primarily mindfulness and the investigation of dhamma. Thus what we call calm and insight meditation brings the Seven Factors of Awakening together, and this is how the Buddha defined Buddhist meditation: calm and insight, samatha-vipassana. Calm and insight meditation, the developing of the mind, is the fundamental meditation practice, leading to a clearer, more penetrative view of the true nature of reality, and culminating in the experience of full Awakening.
This reflection by Ajahn Thiradhammo is from the book, Contemplations on the Seven Factors of Awakening,
(pdf) pp. 127-128.