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TOPIC: WUTYL: Cultivating Attention

WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 22 Mar 2020 20:38 #112244

This will be a somewhat weak opening post for this chapter, mainly because I want to get it out there and we can then talk about specific points as needed. But in a nutshell, this is a foundational chapter to the book because all subsequent chapters, with their specific practices, all start with a baseline of "attention". Those of us coming from a vipassana background would probably equate this with "momentary concentration", but significantly, the notion of "attention" here is not a deep concentrative state that would lead to jhana, for example. Rather, it is a presence of mind that leads to open awareness. The key instruction is:
Return to what is already there and rest.

Watch the breath, feeling the bodily sensations, and rest. If there is tension or a sense of controlling, just return to the sensation of breathing and rest. If your mind wanders, return to the breath and rest. Sounds pretty simple. I have been using this for several weeks now and there is a liberating aspect due to its hands-off vibe. Again, from a vipassana and, more specifically, concentration-based practice, this lighter touch is refreshing. Of course, you can get too hands-off and daydream, and so right effort is very much the order of the day. The bulk of the chapter goes on to describe how to make your physical and mental space conducive to attention, and what some of the obstacles might be. But cutting to the chase, "return to what is already there and rest".

A particular practice that is mentioned, that has been really useful to me in the past, is what he refers to a "backdoor approach":
Body like a mountain,
Breath like the wind,
Mind like the sky.

This was a really great practice for me to get grounded and focused, and he has an audio guided meditation for that on his website that I highly recommend. But that aside, there are other parts of this chapter that grate on me. For example, this insistence on "natural awareness" as some kind of "human heritage". Ugh. I get attention, and I get awareness. Actually, it was through this hands-off attention practice that I really *got* awareness, as I was able to contrast very clearly when I was off in a mind loop versus present in attention. That rush that I felt when I came back was the energy of awareness.

But don't let me get started on "energy" because another peeve I have is his pseudo-scientific "energy transformation" language, and how one your attention is affected by the energy level of your attention relative to the energy in a particular pattern, or thought, or habit. The higher energy wins. Uh, yeah.

But as a foundational chapter that has useful stuff for new and experienced practitioners, it offers way more good than bad. And personally, I was hooked in the opening paragraphs that had nothing, really, to do with attention and everything to do with why I am (currently) practicing meditation: I cannot go on living as I have been before. The sharks are circling.

Discuss.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 22 Mar 2020 23:06 #112245

One thing I will also say. This whole eyes open/closed thing...I just cannot deal with meditating with my eyes open. They get dry, tired, and it makes me sleepy. I absolutely can understand how eyes open can help attention, because it would (or ought to be) more noticeable when you get lost in thought and your eyes wander around, but I just can't do it.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 23 Mar 2020 09:03 #112249

If you don’t mind I will chime in a bit on this Attention chapter as I can well relate to it because my background was Tibetan Shamatha aka Calm-abiding.

Basically what Ken and you describe. Just pay attention to what Is and Rest in it (calmly abide with it).

This was my first Buddhist practice and the one I’ve practiced for 2 years.
I also couldn’t do it with eyes opened. I had such aversion towards meditation with open eyes. Noting fixed this issue very fast (as in Noting severs hindrances extremely fast unless one is utterly non-motivated and energy is totally on the low).

It’s a relaxed practice Shamatha is. Pay attention, return attention when lost in narrative, abide in what is. Simple.

Back in those days I had no idea about Maps so had no idea what was happening I just now that once I’ve experienced Mind dropping away into the background I was “WOW, wtf, I always believed I was this chattering mind and yet I was more this pure awareness in the body so calm so clear so all inclusive and Me was chattering/mumbling far far far away in the background”.
Later when I discovered Maps I have placed this experience into Mind and Body.
Once A&P kicked in it was Very easy to just Pay Attention and Rest in what is. Not much if any lost in narratives.
I was the most enlightened meditator :D (I’m sure you know this feel) :D

Once I’ve lost the Attention on breath, body, sensations I’ve panicked and this totally ravaged me and those around me. Yes, Dark Night. I had no idea about the Maps at that point and I was helpless.

It’s only after I’ve collected enough energy/determination to do Noting have I plowed through this.

You are post Stream Entry and you are familiar with Noting so for you this approach might well be of much benefit as you can triangulate between methods depending on where mind is (stages).

Noting gets us very driven. Hard to let go of dismantling stuff all the time. Calm-abiding certainly has place at the start of practice if ones mind is too stressed to get it settled. Then some Noting to get to know objects and then return to Calm-abiding to calm down that mind set on dismantling everything (even those around us).

This is the reason behind me now practicing Fire a Kasina. Just started 2 days ago so early to say anything. But there is this pay attention, acceptance, rest in it. I also sense my mind going all Noting at one stage (seeing, seeing, seeing) :D so I had to stop it basically and just pay attention to the flame and later the after image.
Last Edit: 23 Mar 2020 09:05 by Dusko.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 23 Mar 2020 10:12 #112250

Thanks, Dusko. Just a point of clarification: I am not post SE.

I think that this whole book is about a different series of maps. The attention/shikantaza/calm abiding discussed here is a precursor to the work yet to come. The last section of this chapter foreshadows this, and I am not entirely sure why it is there since the remaining chapters are all about "working with reactive emotions". Yes, resting in awareness is pleasant, but it is not the goal, not my goal. The POI maps may be helpful for some, but at this point, they don't seem to work for me. I can see my patterns, or some of them at least, but I have not been able to deal with them. And frankly, only recently have I begun to see the most destructive patterns, and I am plenty familiar with POI maps.

The Dark Night is, to me, about confronting some of your patterns. Pre-SE, it is probably just about seeing them, and later paths on dismantling them. The approach in this book seems to be about not being a passive "passenger" on the POI but, rather, developing attention and attacking things head on. That's my take on it, at least.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 23 Mar 2020 11:29 #112251

double post.
Last Edit: 23 Mar 2020 11:31 by shargrol.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 23 Mar 2020 11:30 #112252

sorry double post...

Just as an curious anecdote... I came to the world of meditation through martial arts and I always thought it was funny how "spiritual" meditators closed their eyes. :) I was like, "what, your enlightenment can't handle the sight of an empty room? how will you be able to handle the samuari's sword strike???." :D
Last Edit: 23 Mar 2020 11:31 by shargrol.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 23 Mar 2020 11:33 #112253

:woohoo:
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 23 Mar 2020 23:15 #112254

Attention, mindfulness, awareness, active, passive... I like that this chapter breaks down these concepts in a rather straightforward way (and without Sanskrit terms), and like many buddhist texts, gives a good overview of what can go out of balance (roadblocks). People have been contemplating these techniques for hundreds of years and this books helps manage the volume of all of those little tips and tricks, in a way that is made clear to me anyways. I could go sort through 1,000s of pages of cannon translations, but not get as far in understanding as in this one chapter.

The last paragraphs of this chapter (Summary) are fully highlighted and earmarked in my book; I go back to it often. After reading through this book once, this paragraph is actually a good summary for the whole book itself.

On a side note (related to topic), has anyone delved into the 7 points of Mind Training at all? I stumbled on this last year when I was rummaging through McLeod's website:
www.unfetteredmind.org/mindtraining/introduction.php
I like the random (hop) feature, and I use it several times a week. Im not going to do years of Tibetan system training or anything, but I like these 59 pointers and have found new meaning each time I consider them. Taking and Sending is not a practice that I would have previously thought would work for me, but it seems to open me up and break down my ego shell a bit, so I have been using it, especially lately.

May we all be healthy and well and find the key to the next door...

-Anthony
Last Edit: 23 Mar 2020 23:17 by Anthony Yeshe.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 24 Mar 2020 07:08 #112255

shargrol wrote:
sorry double post...

Just as an curious anecdote... I came to the world of meditation through martial arts and I always thought it was funny how "spiritual" meditators closed their eyes. :) I was like, "what, your enlightenment can't handle the sight of an empty room? how will you be able to handle the samuari's sword strike???." :D

I have a distinct memory of Luke Skywalker training to use the light saber with his eyes blindfolded...and that it was indeed the great Jedi who would be able to fight with his eyes closed. :silly:
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 24 Mar 2020 08:45 #112258

Ona Kiser wrote:
shargrol wrote:
sorry double post...

Just as an curious anecdote... I came to the world of meditation through martial arts and I always thought it was funny how "spiritual" meditators closed their eyes. :) I was like, "what, your enlightenment can't handle the sight of an empty room? how will you be able to handle the samuari's sword strike???." :D

I have a distinct memory of Luke Skywalker training to use the light saber with his eyes blindfolded...and that it was indeed the great Jedi who would be able to fight with his eyes closed. :silly:

I had exactly that same thought when I saw shargrol's post.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 24 Mar 2020 08:57 #112259

I wanted to expand on something I wrote above regarding "energy of awareness". While I chafe at the terminology that likens all this to physical process, implying quantum states and conservation laws, I have always been intrigued by what causes the sensations that all of us feel when we do jhana practice. As I mentioned, I have (for as long as I have been practicing seriously) had these "rushes" when I came back from a distraction. I have been watching it more closely lately and it appears like I have to have quite a lot of concentration/attention built up first. But if I do, and I get lost in a mind loop, as soon as I recognize that and come back, a wave of piti washes over me. It is fascinating that this happens at all, regularly, and it makes one wonder WTF this really is.

Using the terminology of this book, it would be the "energy of awareness". But "e" word aside, I am taking this as a clear marker that what *follows* is what awareness feels like, and what was before was what awareness was *not*. This is a practice that is described much later in the book, but I'll mention it here because it is directly related to attention, or lack of it. As with all this stuff, a significant chunk of the battle is recognizing these things for yourself, and the more pointers one has the more likely one is to "get it".
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 25 Mar 2020 13:09 #112270

“ The approach in this book seems to be about not being a passive "passenger" on the POI but, rather, developing attention and attacking things head on. That's my take on it, at least.”

You are describing my Freestyle Noting Aloud practice here big time :D

What are we talking about here? On or off the cushion dealing with arisings?

Only when fully mindful of objects , meaning having full attention on the object can they be both seen and attacked head on :)
I like Kenneth Folks analogy of Naming the Dragon removes half of its strength.

I’m not Mindful all day long. I get lost in interactions with people and family. Then I’m again mindful. At times less at times more.

Suffering can’t take much place if one is profoundly mindful of that momentary unpleasant arising. Full stop :) Not that I’m without suffering. But I do notice that suffering, reactivity Always arises from Me falling lazily into the stream of becoming. I need to remind my self not to be Lazy all the time and also to allow my self to have more fun in general day to day life.
I mean we can call it attention, awareness, mindfulness, noticing... whatever :) it all comes down to training in not being lazy to profoundly contact an object, one after the other. It is impossible for the Object to become a scary Dragon if I’m profoundly naming/noting/noticing/paying attention to/being mindful of/aware of it.

Btw, I like the word Energy. Mindfulness/payingAttention needs applied Energy. I find my own suffering (when it gets totally over my head) produces so much energy to ignite profound mindfulness and zeal.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 26 Mar 2020 02:15 #112273

Tom Otvos wrote:
....I have always been intrigued by what causes the sensations that all of us feel when we do jhana practice...., and it makes one wonder WTF this really is.
...".
I think the whooshy energy and the subtle tingling, spacious apprehension, blank "there is nothing to see/feel there but you know there is a there there anyway" that kind of stuff is evidence of mind-body integration. The mind sees the world (and itself), has frame of mind about the everything, gets keyed up, worked up about the world and all of that gets the body worked up, keyed up, and that feeds back and supports the mind states, energized is a good word not in the physics sense but just in the ignorant popular sense. But what it is is just, simply, stupidly, that there are nerve endings that give information about what's going on, things are worked up, or calmed down, or inactive, and everything is changing so the feelings change and that seems important, energetics, upper states, whoopee!

I've never felt all magical about Jhana, it just seems to me that there are nerve endings and with concentration and sensitivity we can get focused on just one set of sensory neurons and they feel a certain way and people give the feelings names. I'm kind of annoyed at the magical way Ingram described the mind states in his book, because his descriptions (which I don't really connect with) have made me question everything about my practice, if I don't want to describe things the way he does, then maybe I'm not really 'getting anywhere' in the POI sense.

All that said, I feel it's worth it to say that the wiring, the understanding, experience does all change in helpful ways so of course practice is still is a good idea.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Tom! I hope my thoughts are actually worth the time it took me to write down, but these days I'm not as impressed with myself so maybe not! :)
Last Edit: 26 Mar 2020 02:16 by matthew sexton.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 26 Mar 2020 07:17 #112274

I've never felt all magical about Jhana, it just seems to me that there are nerve endings and with concentration and sensitivity we can get focused on just one set of sensory neurons and they feel a certain way and people give the feelings names..

Um, I beg to differ :)
Last Edit: 26 Mar 2020 07:17 by Chris Marti.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 28 Mar 2020 08:45 #112290

Tom Otvos wrote:
I wanted to expand on something I wrote above regarding "energy of awareness". While I chafe at the terminology that likens all this to physical process, implying quantum states and conservation laws, I have always been intrigued by what causes the sensations that all of us feel when we do jhana practice. As I mentioned, I have (for as long as I have been practicing seriously) had these "rushes" when I came back from a distraction. I have been watching it more closely lately and it appears like I have to have quite a lot of concentration/attention built up first. But if I do, and I get lost in a mind loop, as soon as I recognize that and come back, a wave of piti washes over me. It is fascinating that this happens at all, regularly, and it makes one wonder WTF this really is.

Using the terminology of this book, it would be the "energy of awareness". But "e" word aside, I am taking this as a clear marker that what *follows* is what awareness feels like, and what was before was what awareness was *not*. This is a practice that is described much later in the book, but I'll mention it here because it is directly related to attention, or lack of it. As with all this stuff, a significant chunk of the battle is recognizing these things for yourself, and the more pointers one has the more likely one is to "get it".

Yes, that's good stuff Tom. Picking up on that is a really good insight.

I definitely get the aversion to "energy" talk. If we were talking about physical movements, the same sort of experience would be like the difference between the body being awkward versus the body being coordinated. When we're awkward, there is all this built-in tension from one side of the body having to over compensate for the tension in the other side of the body, constantly over-correcting and using force against force. When ever we're learning a new movement skill, it's always awkward like that. We just don't know how to do it in our body yet. We might intellectually "know" to walk on this tightrope, I need to lean right if my body is falling left and lean left if my body is falling right. But that's just intellectual and we inevitably over-correct to once side or another, freeze up, and fall off the tightrope. But once we develop coordination, balancing is natural and is oddly _easy_. And we feel that little rush, ahhh sooo freeeee!

This is the rush that makes dance, skateboarding, skiing, rockclimbing, and really any body performance so rewarding after you get past the beginner stage. What a feeling of competence and ability and freedom. Whoo!

I think a similar thing happens with the mind. As mentioned in the chapter, when we don't like a situation, we repress or we express --- and often times both. We shuff stuff down and we lash out externally. Our psychological balance keeps trying to stifle internal feelings or "get them out of our system" and a lot of habitual processing power is devoted to it. When this effort is too much, then we go into full trance mode: there is a scene playing out in our mind but it's all an internal simulation and has almost no contact with what is happening in the real world. These are also the same full-on daydream distractions that capture us during a sit, completely removed from our actual breathing body and the room we're sitting in. So when all of that machinery drops away, a huge mental effort, the effort of complete trance, is broken and wow --- suddenly there is a rush of clarity and vividness and often euphoria, too.

These little hits are what ultimately train the primitive lizard of our mind to prefer mindfulness. There is less tension, less effort, in being in this moment... but it feels vulnerable. So basically practice is like a positive feedback cycle that the more we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, the more of our hidden psychological protections and trances come up, but the more they come up the more they also eventually go away, too. And each time they go away, we come out we reconnect to the power of being present -- with that wow of clarity, that relief of momentary freedom from trance, and the nice little rush of pleasure from a feeling of freedom.
Last Edit: 29 Mar 2020 07:25 by shargrol.
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 28 Mar 2020 09:23 #112292

So, while I liked this chapter, it's a lot of material to put up in the front of a meditation book. Experience people might appreciate it, but new folks will probably be soooo frustrated with 50 pages of reading...

There's some good stuff. In looking at my underlining:
  • Probably the most important point is that occrrance of emotional reactivity in practice is going to happen. It's material that we are going to work with. It's not a bug of meditation practice, it's a feature. :)
  • Although this was never intentional, the noting practice I recommend as a base practice is essentially on page 56, but I recommend not just noting "thinking" when noticing distraction, but rather I recommend noting a specific sensation, urge, emotion, or category of thinking that was part of that distraction. A key point that I also agree with is once you note, the distraction is gone, so no need to berate yourself for being distracted. :)
  • Because I'm a midwesterner with barely a hill in sight, I think "Body like a _tree_; Breath like the wind; Mind like the sky" works better for me. :)
  • Probably the most useful practice guidance in the chapter is: stablility is underminded by busyiness, Clarity is underminded by dullness. When agitated/busy, relax; when dull, energize the investigation of what's happening.
  • I liked how he advised 1/2 hr sessions to start, then mentioned 45-1 hour once getting established. I also like the recommendation to have two practice sessions when the mind is becoming more clear and creative -- have one sit for just doing the practice and not indulging in creative thinking but simply note it and drop it, and have one sit where you go wit your creative thoughts and ponder the ideas about business, relationship, art projects, etc that arise during the space of meditation.
  • Anyone remember Culadasa's curious claim that only he talks about the difference between attention and awareness? Of course that's not true. And in this chapter is KMcL's awesome metaphor: attention is like paying attention to your wine glass, and awareness is what allows you to move through a crowd of people without spilling your wine. Love it! :D :D :D
  • Probably the most practical section of the chapter is "working with reactive emotions" p 83 where he describes how with increasing mindfulness, we catch reactivity earlier and earlier in the pattern and therefore we have more and more freedom in our response. This is pretty much how third path plays out, exactly this kind of training. You could call it tantra or dependent origination, but it is exactly the developing the ability to catch reactive emotions, semi-conscious associations, and the three poisons of attraction/aversion/indifference.
  • How do you transform reactivity into attention? When the emotional reaction arises, rest attention on the breath and include the experience of the emotion. If you focus on just the emotion, the emotion tends to become more powerful and potentially overwhelming. If you try to exclude the emotion, you just end up repressing it.
  • There is also a nice warning about repression. Repression about certain things can happen even while other aspects of mindfulness is growing stronger. So you can have more attention AND more repression. When that happends part of your psyche becomes inflexible... and the person becomes more arrogant and self-indulgent. "Long term practioners and teacher who protect areas of their lives from their practice" (not untangling desire for power, sex, money, security, or material obsessions) "frequently run into this problem with unforunate and sometimes tragic results".
  • /ul]
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 31 Mar 2020 23:35 #112324

These little hits are what ultimately train the primitive lizard of our mind to prefer mindfulness. There is less tension, less effort, in being in this moment... but it feels vulnerable. So basically practice is like a positive feedback cycle that the more we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, the more of our hidden psychological protections and trances come up, but the more they come up the more they also eventually go away, too. And each time they go away, we come out we reconnect to the power of being present -- with that wow of clarity, that relief of momentary freedom from trance, and the nice little rush of pleasure from a feeling of freedom.

Shargrol,

Thank you for framing it this way. I had a faint glimmer of understanding this, but it had not come to the front of my conscious mind yet. Proof of why these discussions are so helpful. This is essentially what is so beneficial about this particular book- I am seeing so many efficacious post-awaking instructions here; they are just sinking in slowly.

After all of the hard-fought insight/awakening battles that energize us to do serious practice, leading to the chaotic breakdown of the unopposed concept of "self", what next to finish out the process and actually be free? Its not about the next stage or path, its about cultivating the "awareness wanting to be awake" sort of content. At some point, with enough mind training and paying attention, we naturally let go of that which brings us into suffering and start to recognize something else. Something I cant define. Something about the mystery, grace, the ultimate truth, ect... And every split second that this recognition occurs should be appreciated as very fruitful progress.

Attention to reactive emotion is a powerful practice, to this end
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WUTYL: Cultivating Attention 01 Apr 2020 20:59 #112332

I am also very appreciative of your comments, Shargrol. Your list above highlights a number of things I also noted. I'll say, though, that I don't like the part about dealing with reactive emotions. It belongs later in the book. But also, isn't that just a summary of dependent origination, in about 3 pages?
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