Using spare attention for noticing, resting, healing

 

Through the day, there are many periods where I have spare attention. It may be after I wake up and am still in bed, before falling asleep, when I walk, shower or cook, when I use public transportation, when I rest, and so on.

During these periods, I often use my spare attention intentionally. I may notice what’s here – sensations, thoughts, sight, sound, taste, smell. I may intentionally rest with – or as – what’s here. Nowadays I often use Vortex Healing for myself or others. And in the past (going back to my teens), I have often used heart prayer (Jesus prayer), ho’oponopono, or tonglen.

Sometimes, I just let the mind do what it does in the moment and gently notice it.

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What is attention?

 

What is attention?

It’s guided by mental images. For instance, it can be guided by mental images of a circle overlaid on visual input or a mental image mapping out the body or the environment. This circle guides attention to mostly stay within the circle.

It’s a conscious noticing of what’s here, of (mostly) content of experience. It’s a taking in of what’s here in a more conscious way.

It can be narrow or wide, just like a light beam. It can be as narrow as the sensations at the very tip of the nose from breathing, and as wide as the whole field of experience.

It can be trained to be more stable, to gently rest on something for a long period of time. When attention is trained to be more stable, it benefits just about any activity in our life: work, learning, socializing, recreation, being a partner or parent, and more. It also tends to make us feel better since attention is less prone to get caught up in any random thought. We feel more centered.

Attention often goes to the content of thoughts, to the stories, rather than noticing thought as mental images or words. This is essential for our functioning in the world. It helps us navigate and operate in the world. And when it gets compulsive, it can also create a lot of stress.

Attention can feel heavy-handed or gentle. If it feels heavy-handed, it’s usually because of “shoulds”, ideas of how we should use attention. If it’s gentle, it’s usually much more comfortable and it feels easier and more restful.

Attention can go to space, the space all experiences happen within and as. This, quite naturally, tends to give a sense of spaciousness. It can make it easier to rest with sensations and imaginations that initially seem uncomfortable.

When attention widens to include the whole field of experience, including the space it all happens within, there is often a sense of relief. For instance, if attention is only on physical pain, this physical pain can seem to fill our whole world. When attention widens and also notices the boundless space these sensations happen within, the sensations tend to feel less dense. It’s similar to diluting a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water or a lake. The more water, the more diluted.

Attention is a gift. It’s a gift we can give to neglected parts of ourselves, and to others. Attention can be very nourishing when it’s gentle, restful, allowing, and kind.

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Why does attention go to painful memories/stories?

 

A client asked why she can’t stop thinking about a painful situation that happened several months back.

More broadly, why does attention sometimes repeatedly go to painful memories or stories?

There are several answers, each with some truth to it.

Symptom of trauma. It’s a common symptom of trauma. Its common with obsessive thinking about the initial traumatic situation or similar (real or potential) situations. Trauma can come from ongoing or acute situations and the obsessive thinking tends to reflect the traumatic situation in either case.

Velcro. When attention goes to certain stories in an obsessive way, it’s because these stories have a charge to them. (Or the mind tries to avoid stories with a charge to them by going into daydreams.) Sensations combine with imagination, lending them a charge and sense of reality while the imagination gives the sensations as sense of meaning. That’s how trauma – and any other velcro – is created.

Resolution. The mind goes to these stories because it tries to find resolution. And the only real resolution comes from the mind meeting itself with presence, kindnessn, love, and some insight into the original situation as well as how the mind creates its own painful memory.

Evolution. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense for the mind to return to painful memories to try to learn as much as possible from it and prevent it from happening in the future.

To me, these are all valid. It is a common symptom of trauma. It’s what happens when there is velcro. It’s mind seeking resolution. And it’s built into us through evolution since it makes sense to return to painful situations to try to learn as much as we can from it and prevent similar things from happening in the future.

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Notice push/pull of distractions

 

During any form of meditation, it can be interesting to see where attention goes when it wanders.

This may happen during a training of more stable attention (keeping attention on something, for instance the sensations of the breath at the nostrils), natural rest (noticing and allowing), a heart centered practice (ho’o, tonglen), a body centered practice (noticing sensations, yoga, tai chi, breema etc.), or something else.

When attention gets distracted, it gets distracted by stories that has a charge to them. And these stories have a charge because they are associated with certain sensations. (Sensations lends a sense of reality, solidity and charge to the imagination. And imagination lends meaning to the sensations.) Instead of charge, we can say identification (identification with the viewpoint of the stories), beliefs (at least a part of us taking stories as real and true), or velcro (sensations and imagination associated with each other).

And when I say “distracted by” that can happen in at least two different ways, and there is often a combination of the two.

One is the stories that attention goes to. These may have a charge to them, as described above. And this charge makes them seem important. The charge may be interpreted as a like or dislike. We like or dislike the stories and/or what they are about.

Another is what attention seeks to avoid, which is also a story with a charge to it. When we look, we may first notice the sensation aspect of it (uncomfortable sensations) or the imagination aspect of it (uncomfortable stories). And it appears uncomfortable because a certain story is associated with sensations that makes it appear real, true, and solid.

Explaining it in this way, it may seem complicated, but it can be quite simple in practice.

(a) Keep attention somewhere, for instance in one of the ways mentioned above.

(b) Notice when attention wanders. (This noticing may happen during or after the fact.)

(c) Notice where attention goes. Notice the story or stories it goes to.

(d) Does that story have a charge? Where do you feel it in the body? What are the associated images and words?

(e) What among the sensations in my body did (or do) I not want to feel right now? What did attention want to escape? Find it in the body. Take some time to feel the physical sensations. Notice associated images and words.

This is a simple way to explore it. We can also use inquiry to take it further and explore it more in depth. In most cases, there is a lot of different sensations and imaginations (images and words) connected to what attention went to and tried to avoid.

In the beginning, can be easier to explore it in this setting. It provides a supportive container for the exploration. And really, it can be done in any situation in daily life. Whenever attention gets drawn into a story, I can explore the charge in the story it goes to and also what attention was trying to avoid.

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Attending to the spine

 

In my teens and early twenties, I did a Taoist practice where I brought attention up and down the spine and through the top of the head. (Visualizing dark light going up, and golden light coming down, with the in and out breath.)

Now, I am doing a similar although simpler practice where I bring attention up and down the spine. Rest with it. Notice. Allow. Feel.

I notice again something I noticed several years ago. When I bring attention to the spine, I see three (or more) pictures of the spine, and they don’t quite align. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the spine is, for that reason, and it’s more noticeable from the chest area up. My sense is that it’s connected with an incarnation trauma, perhaps the sense of being unloved and unlovable, and a sense of fragmentation. (Which is also expressed in sometimes being confused what to do next in life, and feeling split between two or more options.)

Some ways to explore this:

Continue bringing attention to the spine. Notice. Allow. Rest with it.

Find kindness towards it. See it’s there to protect me. It’s from deep caring. It’s from love. Treat it with respect. Kindness. Authenticity. (As I would like to be treated.)

Look for a threat. Where is the threat in bringing attention to the spine? In the multiple pictures of the spine? In the slight discomfort I experience when I bring attention there?

What’s the worst that can happen if this doesn’t heal or resolve? (Look for the threat.)

What’s the best that can happen if it does heal and resolve? (Look for that.)

Look for the spine. See if it’s findable.

Look at the incarnation trauma. Look for a threat there. (In the images, words, sensations associated with it.)

Mindfulness of form, and form as awareness

 

I went to a talk at Spirit Rock tonight, and the teacher mentioned that it doesn’t matter so much what the attention is on as long as we are aware of what it’s on.

It reminded me of bi-directional attention, which has been interesting to me since the initial opening.

Attention can be on something within content, within form, an image, a word, sensations, taste, smell and so on.

Attention can also be on awareness itself. It can be on content of experience as awareness itself.

It’s not really bi-directional. I notice I wrote that since that’s how I thought of it back then.

Now, it’s more just a noticing of form, and awareness as – or making up, or constituting – that form. I can feel a sensation. Notice the space within and around it. And notice it all as awareness. And the same with an image. A word. A sound. Taste. Smell.

I can also explore what seems the most as “me” or “I”, and notice that too as sensations, images, perhaps words. Feel the sensations. Look at the images, words. Notice the space within and around it. Rest with it. Notice all as awareness. Rest with it.

This is a form of mindfulness that makes sense of me.

Focus, field and curiosity in meditation

 

In meditation, there are three dimensions I think of as field, focus, and curiosity.

Focus can be narrow or wide. Bringing attention to the sensations of the breath at the tip of the nose narrow focus. Bringing attention to lines or colors of an image, or the shapes of letters, is also relatively narrow. Bringing attention to the sensations of the breath as a whole, or a contraction in the shoulders, is wider. Bringing attention to the space a sensation, image or word happens within and as is wider. In either case, it trains a more stable attention. And a more stable attention benefits just about any activity in our life.

Attention can also be brought to any content of awareness as awareness itself. And the whole field of awareness, with its content, as awareness. The latter is an even wider and more inclusive focus.

Curiosity is an inherent part of this exploration, at least if the exploration is held lightly, and comes from a natural interest in who and what we are, and how reality reveals itself to us.

We may notice…..

How training a more stable attention allows attention to naturally stabilize over time.

How attention is drawn to identifications, to beliefs, to velcro (sensations “stuck” on words and images.)

That any content of awareness – any sensation, word, image – is awareness, it’s “made up of” awareness.

That any content of awareness, and the whole field of experience as it is, is already allowed – by life, mind, awareness.

That what we are is really this field of awareness, as it is. And looking more closely, the capacity for awareness and its content.

That identification with ideas – a.k.a. beliefs, velcro – creates an appearance of being a small part of content of experience, an I with an Other.

And much more.

Traditionally, these three are spoken of as distinct practices. We train a more stable attention. (Samatha.) We notice the field of experience, that it already allows its content as it is, and that this is what we are. (Natural Rest, Shikantaza.) We find a natural curiosity for what’s there, and explore it intentionally. (Inquiry, self-inquiry.)

It makes sense to speak of them separately, and it makes sense to begin our exploration of each of these separately. And yet, the closer I look, the more I see that they are all woven in with each other. Explore one for any length of time and you’ll notice and find the other two.

Note: I was reminded of this when a friend of mine said “those are two very different practices” when I had spoken of focus and natural rest in the same sentence. Yes, they are distinct. And yes, they also blend into each other.

Focus can be explored within the context of natural rest. We can bring attention to a sensation, image or word, notice it’s already allowed, and rest with and as it. And this focus can be expanded to include the whole field of awareness – as awareness, already allowing its content.

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Currently

 

I thought I would give a brief update here. There is still a lot coming up for me, of previously unfelt, unloved, unseen material, and it’s sometimes challenging and sometimes quite moving. It’s all coming up with an invitation for it to be met, felt, loved, seen as what it is – in form and as the same as everything. Things keep falling apart in my outer life as well, perhaps as a reflection of a dismantling of inner patterns as Barry suggests. It’s also because I get caught in what surfaces and live it out, to some extent, and what surfaces is sometimes quite wounded and very young.

Some practices I find helpful these days:

The Living Inquiries. I am in the LI training program, so do the LIs most days, and sometimes several times a day. I find it very helpful, and it’s an approach that makes it easy to explore what I previously have looked into through more traditional (Buddhist) sense field explorations.

Tonglen & Ho’oponopono. I use both of these on anything that my mind takes as an “enemy”, wherever in my world this apparent enemy appears – subpersonalities, physical symptoms, emotions, resistance, life circumstances, other people, a dream figure or anything else. It helps shift how I relate to and see these. There is a curiosity and a question in this. Is it really an enemy? Is my perception of it as an enemy as true as it first appears? What’s my perception of it as I continue exploring it through tonglen and ho’o? (Maybe it’s even revealed as – what a thought may call – awareness and love?)

Holding satsang. I also hold satsang with subpersonalities and whatever else is here (anything can be taken as a subpersonality). You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. What would satisfy you forever? What are you really? 

Heart flame. I find and fan the flame of the heart with my attention and gratitude. Then – in my mind – place my whole body and being inside of this flame, allowing it to burn away anything that’s not similar to itself (clarity, love). It burns away any trance, any illness.

Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE). I continue inviting in neurogenic tremors, often throughout daily life – when I sit in a chair, stand waiting for the tea water to boil, lie in bed etc. Sometimes, I also bring something stressful to mind to invite tension around that to release through the tremors.

The Work. I sometimes use The Work too. Right now, I have to admit I am more drawn to the Living Inquiries, although I see them as equal and complementary. They are both forms of inquiry. They both invite beliefs to be seen through and soften or fall apart. And yet, the Living Inquiries work on images, body images, and sensations more specifically, which I find helpful now. It’s as if it more directly goes to a more primal part of the mind.

Rest. Whenever I remember, I intentionally rest, allowing any experience to be as it is. Noticing the sensations, allowing them as they are. Noticing the sounds, images and words coming and going. Noticing it’s all already allowed. This is an alert form of resting. More accurately, it’s a resting from being caught up in images and words. They come and go, and are noticed as objects instead of being identified with…. and taken as a subject, as what I am. This is also called Shikantaza, or natural meditation, and it’s part of the Living Inquiries.

Stable attention. I sometimes also take time to bring attention to the sensations of the breath at the nostrils, or at one nostril. This invites attention to stabilize, and it becomes more pliable and a support for any activity in life (and just being). I am just getting more back into this, and wish to do it more again.

Prayer. I pray for guidance. For seeing through the trance. (Victim etc.) For support seeing through the trance. For support in meeting what’s here with love. For support in any way that’s most helpful for me. For support in living from love and clarity. For support in giving my life over to God (Spirit, Christ, Buddha Mind) wholeheartedly. For support in meeting any fear in me with love and clarity. For my life being in service of life.

Additional. I have also done some EFT and TFT. I go for walks in nature.  I make sure to drink plenty of water, usually in the form of different types of herbals teas, so my urine is pale or almost clear. (This really helps with any sense of energetic stagnation in my system.) I take some herbs and similar things (chulen, rhodiola, eleuthero, echinacea). I get plenty or rest and sleep.  I do things that sparks my passion (photography, drawing, reading). I connect with friends. (As or more important than much else here.) And so on.

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My mind searching for what I haven’t taken care of yet

 

I notice that my mind often goes to apparent problems, and this can be explained several different ways.

It’s cultural. My mind has been trained to do so through family, friends and culture. I can re-train it through gratitude practice and similar approaches.

It’s a biological predisposition that comes from natural selection. It makes sense for my mind to hone into potential problems so it can be ready for it if it happens, or solve existing problems. As they say, biology is not destiny, so my mind can be switched onto a different track.

It’s my mind searching for what it hasn’t taken care of yet. An apparent problem points to an unexamined belief, just like attention goes to a stone in the shoe. It goes there so it can be taken care of – in this case by examining the thought and find what’s more true.

Attention and boundaries

 

When attention is intentionally brought somewhere, I notice a mental image of a bulls eye and/or a boundary that guides (a) where attention goes and (b) how large area it includes. For instance, attention may go to the sensation of the breath at the nostrils (training stable attention), the sensations of the belly, or the movements of the whole body (Breema). In the first case, the imagined boundary is relatively small, in the second a bit larger, and the third even larger. Attention respect perceived boundaries, at least to some extent.

So when the imagined boundary between the inner and outer world, or this body and the wider world, is taken as quite real and solid, it follows that it may be difficult for attention to include both at once. It tends to go outside or inside.

And when it’s all noticed as one field – of awareness, experience – then it’s natural and even effortless for attention to include “inner” and “outer” at once, since it’s one field. As I type this, there is attention on sensations in my body and emotions and feelings, and also the screen, my hands and the sounds of the keys. It’s all part of the same field. And attention includes all of this partly because there is an intention and wish for it to include these parts of the field, and partly because it’s natural and quite effortless.

I imagine that if the imagined – quite literally imagined – boundary between “inner” and “outer” was taken as more solid and real, it would take more effort to include both in attention, it may even seem almost impossible. And when it’s recognized and known as simply an image, a guide, then it’s natural and happens on its own.

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Seeing beliefs as valuable

 

Why do I sometimes take a story as true?

When I investigate specific beliefs in specific situations, I sometimes find a simple answer:

I see it as valuable to take the story as true, I think it may be helpful. It may help me get what I want, which is often a sense of safety.

There are a couple of related questions here:

Why does attention tend to go to beliefs?

And why is there sometimes a draw to suffering and staying is suffering?

It seems that one answer is the same: I see it as valuable. I think it will give me what it want. I hope it will give me safety.

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Attention released out of beliefs vs thoughts released from being taken as true

 

There is a big difference between (a) attention released out of beliefs, and (b) thoughts released from being taken as true.

Attention released out of beliefs

When attention goes away from a specific belief in everyday life, it may be briefly released out of beliefs in general, although it may also go directly into another belief. The first may happen when enjoying sensual pleasures (sun, swimming, yoga, food, touch, sex), music or while reading or watching a movie. The second tends to happen when we are caught up in hectic thinking.

Attention may also go out of beliefs in general during an opening or awakening experience, or through practices such as sitting (shikantaza), labeling, prayer, or even practicing a more stable attention. Here too, as long as certain thoughts are taken as true, attention will eventually go back into these beliefs.

Thoughts released from being taken as true

Thoughts can also be released from being taken as true, and this seems to require a more intentional and finely grained inquiry, for instance through The Work or sense field explorations.

By investigating a belief surfacing in a specific situation, I get to see and feel – through simple, clear and real examples – that the thought is not true. There is nowhere the thought “this thought is true” can stick. Just as taking a thought as true is lived in view, emotions, body and life, a thought released from being taken as true invites a reorganization at the level of view, emotions, body and life.

My own experience

During the initial opening or awakening in my teens, attention was released out of beliefs in general. All – without exception – was revealed as Spirit. And I have noticed the same happening during sitting.

I also see that attention sometimes still gets caught in beliefs, and even if thoughts are recognized as thoughts and not true, there is still an emotional charge around some of them. They are taken as true at an emotional or energetic level.

And that’s where a more intentional and finely grained inquiry seems helpful, and perhaps why I am drawn to it.

There is a big difference between attention (temporarily) releasing out of beliefs, and specific thoughts finding release from being taken as true.

A stable attention, inquiry and food

 

A stable and relaxed attention is very helpful for inquiry. It supports doing inquiry as meditation.

I can support stable attention through stability practices (samata) such as bringing attention to the breath.

I can support a stable and relaxed attention through exercise (aerobic, strength), yoga, tai chi/chi gong, Breema or TRE.

And I can support a stable and relaxed attention through my diet. For myself, I notice that staying away from sugar supports a stable attention (my attention goes a little,  or sometimes a lot, haywire when I eat sugar). Dairy tends to bring a sense of sluggishness, and wheat makes me feel a bit “weird” so reducing or eliminating those is also a good support for inquiry, and for my life in general. When Byron Katie asks participants for The School to eliminate sugar for a week before The School, I suspect it’s partly for this reason, to support a more stable and relaxed attention, and partly so resistant thoughts will surface for inquiry.

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Attention goes to knots

 

Something else I keep rediscovering:

Attention goes to knots. It goes to wounds and hangups, and beliefs when reality rubs up against them.

It goes to whatever is still unresolved in my stories about the past, future or present, and this takes the form of recurrent thoughts, rumination and day- or night dreams.

I don’t always appreciate it, but I find that reality is kinder than my preferences. Reality invites me to clarity and a more complete resolution, while my beliefs often would rather avoid it.

Whenever attention goes to a knot, it is an invitation for clarity. And for me, it is an invitation to allow, be with and be the emotions it brings up. To find and inquire into the beliefs behind it and find what’s more true. And to see how it is to life from this – including doing my part to resolve whatever needs to be resolved in my relationship with others.

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Rumination

 

Rumination. It has a bad reputation in the psychology world, but where would we be without it?

Whenever is unresolved and important enough for us, attention goes there. Again and again.

It is an invitation to find a resolution, even if it is to a past event that only lives on in our minds.

We may find a resolution through talking about it with others. Especially if they don’t agree with us and offer a new and fresh viewpoint.

We may find a resolution through tiring of our old and habitual ways of approaching it, and finding another that works a little better. Such as taking responsibility for our own choices, actions, and how we relate to our inner and outer situation. Or exploring the beliefs behind it and finding what is more true and honest for us. Or even welcoming and allowing the stress that comes from it, with some compassion for ourselves.

I wouldn’t be surprised if rumination is not built into us by evolution.

If we stubbornly insist on approaching the topic of rumination the same way, then rumination is not so helpful for us.

But if we tire and change our approach, or are receptive to a new approach from the beginning, then rumination can be very helpful.

It is one of the ways we find resolution. Learn. Grow. Embrace more of our humanity.

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Breath as inquiry

 

Breath practice can also have an element of inquiry, either as a natural side-effect or as a result of more intentional focus.

Using the breath as an object of attention, attention is invited to calm down and stabilize.

In the process, I may quietly and wordlessly notice some of the dynamics around it

I usually bring attention to the sensations at the tip of the nose, but it could also be on the expansion of the belly front-and-back, the expansion of the chest, or the sensation of the cool air flowing through the nose and into the lungs.

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Attention as a guide

 

I notice that my attention naturally goes to knots. To beliefs and their consequences (drama, tension, a sense of separation, supporting stories and so on).

And I also see that I can work against or with this natural tendency.

In some specific situations, it seems appropriate to work against it. For instance, when I do a stable attention practice, I can work against that tendency by noticing when attention goes away from its practice object (breath or something else), and gently bring it back.

But in most situations, it seems to make more sense to work with it. To notice that attention naturally goes to knots, and take this as an opportunity to find the belief behind the knot (creating the knot), inquire into this belief, and also allow and be with whatever experiences are associated with the knot (mostly emotions).

If I get stuck in seeing distractions as a problem, I continue to battle with it, and also miss out of the valuable guidance in the wanderings of attention, naturally going to knots.

If I take the wanderings of attention as a valuable guidance, I am led to knots and have an opportunity to work with the beliefs creating them.

If I am free to do both, in different situations, it may be even more valuable. I get to practice a stable attention, gently notice and bringing it back whenever it wanders. And, at other times, I get to use attention as a guide.

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Transparency of thoughts

 

I continue to explore thoughts through the practice of labeling the different sense fields: sound, sight, taste, smell, sensations and thoughts.

It is a great help in differentiating perception and thought, exploring the different interactions between them, and also how thoughts are really just another perception, mimicking the other sense fields and arising as anything else in the sense fields.

Some things I notice…

  • When I close my eyes, I notice how thoughts create images of what is in the space around this body, and of the body itself. In fact, thoughts create the whole experience of space, when the eyes are closed and also when they are open. An overlay of thoughts organize and makes sense of perception, creating a sense of space.
  • Attention is guided by thoughts in terms of sense field, location and boundary. For instance, with eyes closed or open, thoughts guide attention to any sense field, any location, and an area of any size. It can guide attention to sensations of my whole body, or the toe, or sounds from the street, or anything else.
  • Thoughts label perception, often just as an image or also with associated sounds, tastes, smells, sensations. Something arises, it is placed somewhere within the image of space, and an image guessing what it comes from is placed on top of it. For instance, there is the sound of a car from the road, it is located in relation to the space image, and an image of a car is placed there. This happens all the time, with most or nearly all sense perceptions.
  • Thoughts mimic the other sense fields: sounds, sights, taste, smell, sensations. It creates an imagined world that mirrors the world of perception, whether it is overlaid on or separate from perceptions arising here and now. In the first case, it is often not noticed. In the second case, we call it imagination or daydreaming or thinking about the past or future.
  • Thoughts create a sense of continuity. Thoughts mirror perceptions that just left, anticipate what may be about to happen, and string them all together into an appearance of continuity. There seems to be a funny mix of thoughts of past (perceptions from a while ago), present (perceptions that just left), and future (anticipation), and of perceptions arising here now, all together creating an appearance of continuity and time.
  • Through the labeling of nearly all perceptions, thoughts trigger responses and reactions. For instance, there is a thought of hunger (image/sensation), a thought of food in the fridge, and then the response of getting up to make some food and eat it. Or an image of me as man, someone else as a particular type of woman, images of a potential combination, and attraction. Or rain, me miserable in rain, and aversion. Without these thoughts, and an identification with them, none of it would happen. The whole world of attractions and aversions is created in this way, through these overlays of thoughts.
  • Thoughts create the basic organization of perception, such as extent/space and continuity/time, and also a sense of I and Other, with a particular boundary and content of each. The field of perception is filtered into Other, which is typically whatever arises as not this human self, and I, which is typically whatever is associated with this human self such as sensations, sights of this body, sounds made by this body, thoughts, and so on. Combined with this imagined I-Other boundary, there are thoughts of inside and outside, center and periphery, and so on.
  • The sense of I is anchored in whatever arises in the field of perception that falls inside of the I-Other boundary, and some of these more than other. For instance, within the sense field I notice how – for me right now – the sense of I is especially anchored in sensations in the upper neck/lower head area.
  • Thoughts also filter perception to create a sense of a doer. Something arises, and is seen as happening on its own or through the actions of someone else, of the wider world, of Other. Or it may happen within the boundary of this human self, and still for some reason be filtered as Other. Something else arises, filtered to appear within the boundary of this human self, of I, and of I as a doer, and there is a sense of this I being a doer of whatever happened.

And the interesting thing about all this is that it can be seen as it happens. Simply. Clearly. And in that way, thoughts appear transparent, and there is also a transparency in a different way in terms of how this whole sense of an I with an Other is created.

Attention

 

Another visit to the topic of attention, probably not so different in the words that come out, but always new as it is explored here now.

  • Attention is content of awareness, something that comes and goes and shifts around.
  • As any other content, attention lives its own life on its own schedule, and has infinite causes and effects. Some of the immediate causes of attention is discursive thoughts directing it, stories taken as real which draws it, and so on. Its immediate effects is to filter perception, which in turn has its own effects.
  • Attention can be directed by thoughts. It can be directed to a particular area within any sensory field: sensations, sight, sound, taste/smell, thoughts.
  • In the visual field, attention can easily be on something else than the visual focus. I can visually focus on the cup, but attention can be on the movement of the trees outside the window.
  • Attention creates a boundary within the field of perception. What is inside is attended to, what is outside is not. (More or less.)
  • Attention filters perception. Something is within the boundary and is attended to, and everything else fades into the background of awareness (although still arises just as before).
  • Attention tends to go to beliefs, stories we take as real and true. If there is a conscious attempt to keep attention on something else, this can be experienced as a “distraction”. (But can also be seen as an invitation to notice the belief, and see that too as just a thought.)

In all of this, attention is very closely related to thoughts. It is content of awareness, just like thoughts are. It operates within an imagined boundary overlaid onto the perceptual field, as defined by an image thought. It filters perception, similar to how thoughts in general filters attention. And it is guided by thought, either discursive thoughts (“bring attention to your left foot”) or beliefs (“People shouldn’t lie, but she did.” So attention goes to the memory and stories around that particular incident.)

In exploring this for myself, I can’t help wondering if not attention is anything more than just an image thought creating a focus and boundary that filters the perceptual field in a particular way.

As with everything else, there is always more to explore here.

Attention going to knots

 

Another revisited theme: attention going to knots.

Knots are made up of beliefs and their corresponding emotions and habitual patterns, including behavioral ones. There is a belief in a story, a friction between the story of what is (or was, or may be) and this story, corresponding emotions, and certain behaviors.

And attention tends to go to these knots, which makes it more difficult for awareness to notice itself, and its content as awareness too. We notice it in everyday life, and also during sitting practice.

Why does attention go to knots?

There may be several ways of talking about it…

First, there is discomfort in several ways.

  • Whenever there is a belief, there is a discrepancy between what we are (awake void and form) and what we take ourselves to be (as defined by the belief and its corresponding identity), which brings a sense of uneasiness.
  • Whenever there is friction between our stories of what is and what should be, there is discomfort.
  • Whenever there is a belief, there is resistance to experience, which gives discomfort.

Then, an impulse to change the situation to relieve the discomfort.

  • We can narrow the gap between the story of what is and what should be, by changing what is or what should be.
  • We can change our relationship to the stories themselves, for instance by inquiring into them allowing a release of identification from them.
  • Or we can ignore the discomfort and the impulse to change one or both of the above, in which case the misery is likely to deepen. Also, if we only work on the first one, we are caught in the ongoing drama of what is and what should be, which is fine but also somewhat stressful.

And to change it, attention needs to go there.

Right here now, I can see these patterns play themselves out.

In one sense, it is all an invitation for awakening, for beliefs to be examined and unravel and Ground to notice itself. It is how Big Mind first “loses itself” by identifying with just an aspect of itself, how it gives itself an impulse and motivation for awakening, and also guides itself to awakening – back to noticing itself as Big Mind. These dynamics are three in one: forgetting, motivation for change, and a guide for awakening.

And in anther sense, it is an evolutionary mechanism which increases the chances of survival for the individual and the species. There is a discrepancy between what is (circumstances) and what should be (health and well-being of this individual and its group, so then an impulse to reduce this discrepancy, which in many cases – and appropriately so – means to change things in the world to create more favorable circumstances for this human self and its group.

So this simple dynamic has a beautiful complexity to it all around. Here and now, there is an infinite number of aspects and processes to explore. And in the bigger picture, we see how it is Big Mind forgetting about itself, seeking itself, and guiding itself to notice itself again. And also how it is a mechanism that increases the chances of survival for the individual and the species.

And exploring the two last ones, we also see that the survival aspect has (mostly) to do with changing circumstances, and the awakening aspect has to do with examining these dynamics themselves and also beliefs.

Both are essential in their own way, also in our own life.

Anatomy of attention

 

When I explore attention, I find that it lives its own life as anything else, and on its own schedule. It is of course influenced and triggered by perception (for instance something unexpected arising) and stories (directing it), but that too lives its own life and happens on its own.

I also find that it can be more narrowly focused or more widely embracing, although it can always go to what was previously in the periphery of attention.

And I see that attention is content of awareness. It comes and goes, moves around, is more narrow or more broad, and so on. In pure awareness without content, there is no attention because there is nothing to attend to, and also no attention since that too is content of awareness. This is also why it lives its own life, on its own schedule, and with infinite causes and infinite effects as anything else.

Attention also seems to be related to the different sensory fields in different ways.

For instance, it is related to the vision field in several ways.

First, the obvious one in that what the eyes focus on is often, but not always, where attention is as well. Sometimes, the eyes focus somewhere, and attention is on something else in the visual field or in another sensory field. Or it can of course be in a particular sensory field without the aid of visual input through the eyes.

From here, I find that when attention is on sensation, it is guided by imagined images, by visual thoughts. For instance, there is a focus of attention on sensations in my right ankle, and this focus is guided by a body image in the thought field. This body image filters out sensations into ankle, or a center, and not-ankle as periphery.

The same is even true for sound. Right now, there is the humming of the fridge, and if attention goes to that humming, it is aided by an image of a fridge (and also an image of the quality of the sound) to help filter out fridge and non-fridge sounds. This one is more mixed as attention is also guided and filtered by thought remembering the sound as it was, creating a sense of continuity, and this is a sound thought (a thought mimicking the sound field) rather than an image thought.

So when attention is focused within a particular sensory field, it seems often guided by a visual thought (imagined images), and also a thought mimicking that same field (a sensory, sound, taste, smell thought, or imagined sensation, sound, taste and smell). If nothing else, the visual though helps spread the perceptions out in space, so it becomes easier to differentiate them and filter out a subset of them.

More generally, it seems that attention is, independent of anything else, an image thought placed on top of perception, almost like a bulls eye or a boundary determining what within perceptions arising is inside and outside.

And as such, attention too is somewhat of an illusion, a gestalt arising from believing in a thought.

Attention going to knots

 

Draft only:

Whenever there is a belief in a story, it creates a knot.

The belief prevents us from seeing the truth in the reversals of the initial story, it creates a sense of friction or discrepancy between life as it is and as it should be, and it creates a wide range of emotions which all have fear as their kernel (fear of not having what we want, and of having what we don’t want).

All of this forms a metaphorical knot which binds our views into rigid patterns, closes our hearts down to whatever does not conform to what should be (including situations, other people, and ourselves), creates blind emotions and reactivity, and habitual behavior patterns fueled by the beliefs and corresponding emotions.

And when there is a knot, attention tends to go there. Life shows up in ways that do not correspond to the should created by the beliefs, so attention goes to the discrepancy. Or something in us is uneasy about the discrepancy or even potential discrepancy, so attention goes there even in the absence of an obvious (current) clash.

At the pragmatic level, we see that attention going to a discrepancy between what is and should be is very helpful. It helps us figure out how to deal with the situation, either by modifying our strategies for making what is closer to how it should be, or by modifying our stories of what is or what should be. If we take ourselves as an object in the world, dependent on certain circumstances in the wider world, this is very useful. Even if we don’t, it is still useful at a practical human (individual and species) level.

Swinging to the other extreme, we can say that all is God, so if something is seen as not God (not good), then God naturally brings attention there so that too can be seen/felt/loved as God (and good).

Or we can say that there is a discrepancy between what we are and what we take ourselves to be, and something in us knows or intuits this discrepancy, so brings attention to the cause of this discrepancy. We are the field of awareness and its content, absent of an I with an Other. And we take ourselves to be what stories tells us we are, such as an object in the world. So attention goes to those beliefs, with an invitation for us to explore those beliefs more thoroughly… including their effects, and what is already more true for us.

In either case, attention going to knots is similar to a trail of bread crumbs, showing us the way home.

If there is resistance to what is, we’ll get lost in the drama it creates and not notice or being able to follow the trail. If there is a release from (identification with) resistance, there is clarity enough to notice and being led by the trail.

(more…)