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TOPIC: The Issues of Attention and Awareness

The Issues of Attention and Awareness 25 Oct 2019 09:14 #111755

I'm bringing this up from another topic:

An interesting and important point - you seem to be saying that mindfulness is actually a distraction; is that right?

The importance of what folks in the dharma world call "mindfulness" or being aware of being aware in any given moment isn't usually debated. It can also be called "being present." My question is this: why is being present, or aware of being aware, given privileged status over other experiences? What's special about it?
Last Edit: 25 Oct 2019 09:22 by Chris Marti.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 25 Oct 2019 11:12 #111756

Here's another question:

Is it more important to know you're present, or to be present?

And:

Aren't these two things really the same?
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 25 Oct 2019 14:15 #111757

Chris Marti wrote:
Aren't these two things really the same?

In a sense No. Presence is pre-reflective presencing, it is dependent co-arising in action. "Knowing of", or "knowing that", on the other hand, necessarily carries with it an "of", or "that". "Knowing" is transitive. So the "being present" in "knowing that I'm present" is by definition an object. But presencing cannot be taken as an object, so No, they can't be the same.

But in an a sense the answer is also Yes. There is no infinite regress with presence, because the "knowing" of the "knowing of" always already is. So any knowing, including that I'm present, is rimlessly manifested in presence, it's the manifestation of presencing like anything else.

Depending on the school of thought, being aware of being aware is either part and parcel of awareness, or it is not. But in many philosophies of mind that denotes the same phenomenon, even for starkly different terminology. That phenomenon (if we want to call it that, for this purpose) is what I mean above with presence. It's magical.

Unfortunately the prescription of "be present" can land at the someone who wants to direct, act and watch the play with the name "Being Present". Playing can be useful at times (speaking about myself here), but without realizing it's a play it turns out to be a lot of unnecessary baggage. It's an investment with no payoff, or at least not the one intended by a tradition like Buddhism.

A lot of traditions run the risk of leading the practioners towards depersonalization and disassociation. They talk about their thing, and the avid listeners clone and script themselves into numbness, as if that was the prize. Western Buddhism and its often dumb mindlessness of the so called mindfulness comes to mind. Politically it's a desaster. Spiritually I don't know, it's supposed to have a positive effect at least on mental health.

EDIT: It has for me, so I'm grateful for that, and I'm also happy for everyone who benefits from it. I don't want to disparage anyone who practices with a good heart.
Last Edit: 25 Oct 2019 14:59 by Frank.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 25 Oct 2019 14:24 #111758

As for mindfulness, I'd like to throw in a quote from Rob Burbea (from "The Wonder of Emptiness" of the retreat "Seeing that Frees" from 2012):
[A]ctually, the arising of mindfulness in any moment, or even the arising of the intention to be mindful, is not from the self. It's from all these conditions coming together... So for instance, if I'm mindful, if there is mindfulness in this moment, it's much more likely to "condition," we say, to give birth to a next moment of mindfulness. (...) If you have a history of ... practicing, and again and again, coming back to the breath, coming back to the moment, that's what we call "karma." You're actually setting up tendencies in the mind, conditioning pathways that are conditioned to make it more likely that, in the future, that mindfulness arises.

I don't have any beef with such a mindfulness. But that's indeed something different than the "being aware of being aware" you mention in the OP.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 25 Oct 2019 14:56 #111760

Everything is dependently co-arising, including the sense that we're aware of being aware, aware of being present, the experience that we're being mindful in any given moment, or just being present with any other experience. My question is why do people hold mindfulness out as a special case, a more important case, of experience?
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 25 Oct 2019 15:20 #111761

Chris Marti wrote:
Everything is dependently co-arising, including the sense that we're aware of being aware, aware of being present, the experience that we're being mindful in any given moment, or just being present with any other experience. My question is why do people hold mindfulness out as a special case, a more important case, of experience?

Following the Theravada Abhidhamma, mindfulness, the awareness of the roots of the citta we experience in any moment, is an important spiritual force. By being mindful we cultivate the wholesome and abandon the unwholesome roots. It's a co-arising sankhara, not just any sankhara, but of the (in meditators) commonly co-arising beautiful kind.

From the above description I can see good reasons to be mindful, even if I don't buy into karma. I can therefore understand why it has such a good reputation. But I wouldn't go as far as saying it's a "more important" case of experience. Maybe "more helpful" for walking the path than other, less skillful mind factors?

This is all highly dependend on the lenses I use to look at myself and the world. From what I read, at least some Vajrayana practitioners don't find that kind of sutric purification appealing.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 25 Oct 2019 15:35 #111762

From the above description I can see good reasons to be mindful, even if I don't buy into karma. I can therefore understand why it has such a good reputation. But I wouldn't go as far as saying it's a "more important" case of experience. Maybe "more helpful" for walking the path than other, less skillful mind factors?

Can you speak to the value of mindfulness from your experience of it?
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 25 Oct 2019 16:24 #111766

I understand mindfulness as a stance, not a gesture (see here for explanation). It's a felt dimension of experiencing.

Being mindful in this sense allows me to get closer to the stirrings in the bodymind. The value comes from being able to progressively quieten the mind.

Other qualities I cultivate in this context are alertness and ardency. Mindfulness is "just" keeping something in mind. Alertness wakes me up and ardency supplies the energy for that.

In concentration practice I don't reduce mindfulness, alertness or ardency to more basic experience.
Last Edit: 25 Oct 2019 16:25 by Frank.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 26 Oct 2019 13:10 #111767

Does your experience of mindfulness occur in serial or parallel fashion? Said another way, does mindfulness occur at the same time as other experiences, or at a different time? (BTW - this happens fast - we have to be tuned into pretty high-frequency experiences to see it).
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 26 Oct 2019 15:44 #111769

Chris Marti wrote:
Does your experience of mindfulness occur in serial or parallel fashion? Said another way, does mindfulness occur at the same time as other experiences, or at a different time? (BTW - this happens fast - we have to be tuned into pretty high-frequency experiences to see it).

Why do you ask this?
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 26 Oct 2019 16:55 #111770

I'm just asking you about your experience of mindfulness. I'll go first: my experience is that the recognition of being mindful happens in serial fashion and not simultaneously, not with the sensations I'm mindful of. It's a separate experience.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 27 Oct 2019 08:55 #111773

Yes, I heard you asking, I wanted to know why you ask. :)

Chris, I've never done Mahasi noting or other high-frequency vipassana. I thus lack the temporal resolution to answer the question in your conceptual framework.

For me mindfulness feels more simultaneous than serial. It's a bit like a color in the visual periphery - - I can know it's there, seen from the corner of the eye, while I can attend something else in a serial fashion. In the same way I don't have to verbally remind myself with mindfulness, but it's enough to keep something in awareness, in the back of the mind.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 27 Oct 2019 11:11 #111774

There are a few things like this that I've encountered during my practice, where deeper investigation reveals a different view of what's happening.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 27 Oct 2019 11:23 #111775

Any investigation has the potential to reveal a different view, IMHO. Does "higher frequency" automatically mean "deeper"? Does "not caring about frequency" automatically mean "less deep"?

EDIT: Sounds like "your" mindfulness takes a bit more time than no mindfulness, because of its sequential nature. Is that the reason that you believe mindfulness is in a way superfluous and getting in the way of "the experience itself"?
Last Edit: 27 Oct 2019 11:36 by Frank.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 27 Oct 2019 11:43 #111776

I'm not making value judgments. There are ways of practicing that don't involve the processes that Mahasi-style noting and vipassana investigation use, and those are very successful practices. Each has its merits and downsides.

I like knowing by observation the actual process in a step by step fashion, so yeah, if seeing it in smaller increments reveals a different picture of the experience then I'd say it's deeper, at least in that sense. It's like an optical illusion, and while the original story is just fine as it is, it's not a complete picture. And if the alternative version reveals something that informs us then it's a good idea to factor it in. There are all kinds of these things in practice, where what we originally believe is revealed to be quite a bit off as we investigate further They're not all about resolving smaller increments of time. Sometimes they're figure/ground type things. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that meditation practice is all about revealing these kinds of illusions. Where do the turtles end, so to speak - or do they?
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 27 Oct 2019 11:54 #111777

Is that the reason that you believe mindfulness is in a way superfluous and getting in the way of "the experience itself"?

The bigger issue lies in the hierarchy implied by those who reify mindfulness as a "better" way to be. I think mindfulness is a better way to be only if we're not interested in getting to the bottom of experience the way we do in meditation practices aimed at doing just that, which is the vast majority of practices. Mindfulness is a useful tool to use while we learn to pay attention, to focus, to investigate. I think that's where it stops. This was raised on the other topic: we don't get to choose as much as we think we do (another one of those habitual stories that is revealed to be less than accurate as we learn more). We're ultimately aiming to be able to experience our lives without the overhead we need when we start the practice. At some point, we should be seeking to abandon the raft that gets us across the river.
Last Edit: 28 Oct 2019 14:38 by Chris Marti.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 27 Oct 2019 12:37 #111778

Chris Marti wrote:
Is that the reason that you believe mindfulness is in a way superfluous and getting in the way of "the experience itself"?

The bigger issue lies in the hierarchy implied by those who reify mindfulness as a "better" way to be. I think mindfulness is a better way to be only if we're not interested in getting to the bottom of experience the way we do in meditation practices aimed at doing just that, which is the vast majority of practices. Mindfulness is a useful tool to use while we learn to pay attention, to focus, the investigate. I think that's where it stops. This was raised on the other topic: we don't get to choose as much as we think we do (another one of those habitual stories that is revealed to be less than accurate as we learn more). We're ultimately aiming to be able to experience our lives without the overhead we need when we start the practice. At some point, we should be seeking to abandon the raft that gets us across the river.

In the previous post you wrote:
I'm not making value judgments. There are ways of practicing that don't involve the processes that Mahasi-style noting and vipassana investigation use, and those are very successful practices. Each has its merits and downsides.

So do you give other practitioners the benefit of the doubt if they have a different view on their reality, or do you think your conceptual framework is what is "ultimately true"?

From reading MCTB (1 in particular, less so 2) I know that e.g. Daniel Ingram thinks that all traditions would accept his view if they were honest or skillful enough.

EDIT: To my knowledge, not all traditions think that mindfulness is to be discarded.

EDIT 2: Please disregard this post, it doesn't add anything to the discussion. This time it's my turn to say "Anyways, I'll shut up and leave." ;)
Last Edit: 27 Oct 2019 14:32 by Frank.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 27 Oct 2019 17:41 #111779

Frank, I don't know if anything is "ultimately true." I rely on my practice experience to make judgments about the nature of what I'll loosely call "reality" but those are my judgments and I don't expect everyone to agree with them. I do think there's something to be said for practice experience, though. I know a lot of folks who have a lot of depth to their practice and their ideas on these kinds of things do tend to converge, even across traditions. Not on everything, of course, but about a lot of things that are important.
Last Edit: 27 Oct 2019 17:41 by Chris Marti.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 27 Oct 2019 18:04 #111780

I found in time (but only after a very long time) that the act of being 'mindful', or adopting any other 'mental posture' or 'stance' seemed like a kind of attempt to manipulate my experience and thus a kind of evasion of reality or argument with God or complaint. How do I know how things should be right now? It is interesting to question practices and question practice motivations at regular intervals! "What am I trying to make happen here? What do I hope to get out of it? What if I didn't do that?"

There are phases of practice where sticking with rigorous effort-driven and structured practices are very helpful. There can also be a great deal of arrogance in thinking oneself 'beyond' needing to do any kind of 'practice' anymore. But certainly ones relationship to practice can and should change over time. But I think that only ever can and will happen when God sees fit; everyone takes their own wandering way and comes from such varied conditions.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 28 Oct 2019 16:04 #111783

Chris Marti wrote:
Does your experience of mindfulness occur in serial or parallel fashion? Said another way, does mindfulness occur at the same time as other experiences, or at a different time? (BTW - this happens fast - we have to be tuned into pretty high-frequency experiences to see it).

love this question. I haven't been hanging around friends with vipassana backgrounds lately, and you just don't get this kind of question from the advaita/dzogchen crew. mine is clearly serial. attention pings back and forth between the stimulus and the thing experiencing the stimulus, which when I am not being lazy in looking seems to be just another quieter thought.

to your earlier questions, I still don't know what "being present" means. the value of being aware of awareness for me seems to be 1) I am less likely to follow thoughts, and 2) partially (but maybe not solely - not sure) as a result of 1, I feel better. my body feels more relaxed, visual and auditory stimuli have a more pleasant tone, and there is a background mumbled thought of "this is beneficial/this is sustainable". so in that sense, my reason to walk around with attention on awareness is exactly like the reason I would use to walk around listening to good music or on good drugs (except I don't have the beneficial/sustainable thoughts in connection with those exercises).

I agree totally with Ona's comment that this practice, more and more, feels like an argument with God - in fact I am most persistent with the practice when reality is not suiting my preference and there are angry thoughts along lines of "if this is Your current symphony, you can shove it, I'm going to go hide in awareness where I can't hear it too loudly." in other words, the flavor of "NO" inherent in the practice is very palpable.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 28 Oct 2019 17:23 #111784

Is it possible that when people say they are being mindful or in awareness or present or not caught up in thoughts what they ACTUALLY mean is:

"I am not currently experiencing any tension, pain, or stress." ??

Can one be mindful, present, etc. in a state of pain, stress or tension? (I'd say sure, but I wonder if that is sometimes used as a marker of "doing it right" or "not doing it right"). Does that make sense?

I think it might not make sense... lol
Last Edit: 28 Oct 2019 17:25 by Ona Kiser.
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The Issues of Attention and Awareness 29 Oct 2019 08:09 #111785

Can one be mindful, present, etc. in a state of pain, stress or tension? (I'd say sure, but I wonder if that is sometimes used as a marker of "doing it right" or "not doing it right"). Does that make sense?

Your question makes sense to me in that the underlying phenomena doesn't make a lot of sense :P

Seriously, I think there are quite a few myths floating around in the dharma ether. I do think that practitioners get too focused on things like "successful meditation," feeling happy, not feeling pain/suffering, and not having negative emotions. So when those things are perceived to be going well it skews the perception of the practice itself. It's like curing a disease by focusing on the symptoms. That is the underlying reason for the first question I raised about mindfulness. Without investigating the cause and focusing just on the symptom (being present) we miss the most fruitful benefit and ultimate value of this practice (understanding how mind works).

<I reserve the right to change my answer if I misunderstood the question.>

I agree totally with Ona's comment that this practice, more and more, feels like an argument with God - in fact I am most persistent with the practice when reality is not suiting my preference and there are angry thoughts along lines of "if this is Your current symphony, you can shove it, I'm going to go hide in awareness where I can't hear it too loudly." in other words, the flavor of "NO" inherent in the practice is very palpable.

To this, I can only say :)
Last Edit: 29 Oct 2019 08:14 by Chris Marti.
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