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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Mutuality of stability and insight

 

There are several ways stability and insight work together.

Stability practice itself, such as counting the breath, inevitably gives some insights. The first one is usually how active the mind is, and how easily attention is distracted and lives its own life outside of conscious control. Then other things, such as how distractions has to do with attention getting absorbed into stories, and how beliefs related to these stories makes it more likely for attention to be absorbed into them. (They seem more real, more important, and they are also identified with so not recognized as just thoughts very easily, until maybe afterwards.)

Stability of attention also helps more explicit insight practices, first by allowing attention to stay wherever it is put for longer, and also by generally calming the activity of the mind so there are fewer hooks for distraction.

And insights allow for more stability of attention. We learn to see through how beliefs are created, as it happens, and recognize thoughts more easily as just thoughts. And this lessens the tendency for attention to get absorbed on the inside of thoughts, which in turn allows attention to more easily stay where it is put.

Stability practice

 

I haven’t done much stability practice for a while, and am now coming back to it. One of the benefits of leaving something and then returning is the rediscovery, seeing it in a more fresh way, being more interested in it and its effects.

Stability practice (shamata) is a basic and ongoing companion practice to almost any other practice, whether it is prayer, allowing, inquiry, yoga, or something else.

It allows for a more stable attention, which is helpful for any other practice. And this stable attention in turn calms the content of the mind, which is also helpful for many practices.

It helps our attention stay with the prayer. It helps us be with whatever we are experiencing, fully allowing it all in a wholehearted way. It helps attention stay with inquiry, whether it is labeling practice, Big Mind Process, The Work or any other form of inquiry. It helps attention stay with the breath and body while we do body-inclusive practices.

And it also helps us in daily life in many ways… stable attention, more clarity, even a greater sense of energy because attention is focused instead of scattered.

There are many ways of doing stability practice, although they all (?) include bringing attention to an object.

Often, this object is the breath, such as the sensations of the breath at the nostrils. It is also helpful to count the breaths in the beginning of each session until there is more stability, and then just stay with the breath without counting. (The counting helps keep the interest there, and is also great feedback for when attention strays into the inside of thoughts.)

It is helpful to stay relaxed, allowing the breath to come and go as it naturally does, and then tune attention just enough to stay with the breath.

Eyes somewhat open helps with alertness, and light does the same. It attention is scattered, it can help to lower the gaze and maybe reduce the light level. If there is sleepiness, it can help to raise the gaze and increase the light level.

It is also helpful to do some form of physical activity before sitting, such as strength or aerobic exercise or a form of yoga. It tends to invite in a more relaxed alertness.

Although any body position is fine, sitting with an erect spine helps with staying awake and alert. I find it interesting to sometimes experiment with different positions, including lying down, and notice the difference.

And it can be done whenever we have time and are not doing anything else, such as when sitting on the train or bus, waiting for an appointment, or while still in bed before falling asleep or after waking up.

Aspects of resolution

 

For all of us, at least until awakening to realized selflessness, there are times when old patterns come up, there is a definite identification with them, and there is a deep wish for some sort of resolution.

This happened for me yesterday, and by the end of the day I found myself in a coffee shop writing down what I know, from experience, about resolution, and how to relate to these recurrent patterns. Looking over the list, I found two broad categories which (it so happens…!) correspond to the two broad categories of Buddhist meditation practice: samata and vipassana, or calm abiding and insight, or natural meditation and inquiry.

Dropping resistance (Samata)

This is about dropping resistance to experience, including resistance itself. To allow the field of seeing and seen, the whole tapestry, to arise and rest in itself as it is here and now.

This allows the field to recognize itself as a field, and the sense of I and Other within the field becomes more transparent, fades, and may even fall away in a more complete way.

There is a release from being blindly caught up in ideas and interpretations, of the whole story we weave around I as a separate entity, and so a release from much of the suffering created by this.

This field may even recognize itself as awake emptiness and form, and everything arising as awake emptiness and form, which takes even more of the charge out of whatever arises. It becomes less substantial, more of a dream, passing images.

This is the transcending of any issues in our human life, by seeing them as expressions of the field, which is inherently absent of I and Other, and as no other than awake emptiness and form.

It is the ultimate yang approach to dealing with irresolvable problems: transcend, and include. Transcend, find yourself as Big Mind instead of just this human self, realize that there is no separate I anywhere in all of it. And then include all form as Big Mind, include your human life, life your human life within this new context, now with a sense of ease and released from identification.

In a way, it is an escape, but it is an escape from a temporary misidentification to an immediate recognition of what we always and already are: the field of seeing and seen, of awake emptiness and form. This field of everything arising, which is inherently absent of an I anywhere, absent of I and Other, and where the only I is as the field as a whole, as an I without an Other.

Learning from (Vipassana)

Then there are the many ways of learning from problems…

I can find the gifts in the situation. What are the gifts of loss, failure, pain, disease? I can find a deeper empathy with others, a deepening compassion for all beings, seeing that we are all in the same boat. I can become more familiar with surrender. I can become more familiar with impermanence. I can discover my own beliefs and identities, and explore ways to surrender these beliefs and identities. I can find a deeper motivation for self-inquiry in its many forms, including those that lead to realized selflessness.

I can open my heart to what arises, including to myself and others who suffer from a similar situation, or any suffering at all. We are all in the same boat here. As long as there is a misidentification, we suffer. And through my own suffering, to seeing and feeling into it, I can open my heart and deepen my compassion, understanding and empathy for others. The more intense my own suffering, the more it can break open my heart, if I only allow it (or can’t resist it anymore.)

I can use it to find myself in the other. To see and feel, becoming more deeply and intimately familiar with in myself what I see in the other (if another person is involved.) And through this, to awaken love for it (hold it in love), in myself and the other.

I can allow the symptoms and experiences to unfold, following the trail of crumbs, allowing it to unfold and harvesting the nutrients in it through for instance Process Work, some variation of active imagination, or similar approaches.

I can learn about impermanence, become more familiar and intimate with it, and with the (freeing) consequences of seeing and feeling into impermanence.

Everything in the world of form is in flux, always fresh, new and different. Seasons, this , youth and health, success and failure, fame and infamy, art, science, nations, cultures, civilizations, the Earth itself, this solar system, this galaxy, the universe itself, it is all in flux, it all comes and goes, it is all impermanent.

Seeing and feeling that all is impermanent places my own life in a different and wider context. It means that we are all in the same boat, it is the great equalizer.

Impermanence also means that any fixed beliefs, any fixed and limited identities, any holding on to anything, brings suffering. And if everything in the world of form, including this human self, is flux, then who or what am I? I seem to not come and go in that way. What is it that does not come and go?

Impermanence allows me to explore surrender in all its many forms. Surrender of beliefs, identities, wants and wishes, who I take myself to be, anything I (think I) know.

The gifts of impermanence then includes seeing that we are all in the same boat, loosening my grip on beliefs and identities, and nudging me towards awakening – finding myself as that which does not come and go, and that which comes and goes.

I can use it to explore the many aspects of emptiness. As mentioned above, I can explore the transitory nature of anything finite in space and time. Is anything fixed?

I can try to find the boundary between seeing and seen. Where is this boundary? Is the content of awareness anything other than awareness itself? Is form anything other than awake emptiness? (See below.)

Who or what is experiencing? Is there a separate I here? (See below.)

I can use it as material for self-inquiry. First and simplest, and related to the dropping of resistance: Can I be with what I am experiencing right now? And then…

What do I need to let go of to find peace with this? Which beliefs and identities do I need to let go of to find peace with this situation? Who or what do I need to be to find peace with it? What do I need to let go of to find peace with it, even if it would never change?

What are my beliefs around this situations? Are they true? What are their consequences? Who or what would I be without them? What are the grains of truth in their reversals? (The Work.)

Who or what is experiencing? To whom or what is this happening? Am I the always changing content of experience? These sounds, smells, tastes, sensations, thoughts? What is not changing? Am I what is not changing, this awareness, the seeing of it? If so, where is the boundary of I as seeing and Other as seen?