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Using Attention in a New Way

--by Gil Fronsdal (Jan 14, 2013)


One of the things we are trying to do here, is learn to pay attention to seeing what complicates our attention -- where we get caught, what makes it difficult. Because the place we get caught is also the place where we are going to feel stress.  The place we get hung up is often a very important window into understanding how we are most likely to suffer, or how we are more likely to cause problems in our life.

So we start by paying attention, which we all have the capacity to do. Yet when we get interested in this practice, how is it that our ability to stay calmly connected to the present moment gets somehow disrupted?  People who meditate will sometimes think that the disruption is the problem. Disruption sounds like a bad word: "I got disrupted." I got caught. When we do this meditation practice, we try to not judge anything as being bad or inappropriate. Rather we try to fold everything back into the attention. In other words, to notice this. Pay attention. What’s going on. Notice this, notice this. “Ah, I just got caught. I heard someone cough, and it reminded me that my friend was sick, and I wondered if I should visit my friend in the hospital, and I wonder how late Kaiser is open, and then I notice, "I'm teaching a class…oh!" So, it’s an example of getting pulled in. It was an innocent example, but it could also not be so innocent.  Rather than saying that I shouldn’t have had that train of thought, what we try to do is fold everything back into the attention. "Oh, look at that, that’s what a disruption is like. That’s what it’s like for the mind to get hooked, get carried away. That’s what it’s like. That’s what it’s like."

Do you understand that principle? It is a really important one. Sometimes, people who have been meditating for 10 years haven’t learned this one yet. Haven’t learned that there’s nothing that doesn’t need to happen. There’s nothing that you should say "that shouldn’t happen". Rather, it’s one more thing to learn to pay attention to. And if you learn to pay attention well, there is freedom to be found in attention.  In paying attention, there is a way of doing it where you are not caught, trapped, oppressed, influenced, or driven by what’s going on, inside or outside yourself. And that gives you a tremendous power to go about your life. If you have the ability not to be pushed around by your inner compulsions or the pressures from the outside. We learn this by learning how to use the attention in a new way. 

--Gill Fronsdal


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15 Previous Reflections:

 
On Jul 14, 2015 Jan O'Han wrote:

 Our culture in the US is steeped in "good and bad", black and white - not race but solid opinions with no grey areas, judging everything all the time, so even in meditation the tendency will come up to judge the experience. It's helpful to become un-opinionated I have found, even though I may be judged for that! I love the idea however of folding the thoughts back into attention so that I can learn from them by paying attention rather than supressing or ignoring. With gratitude.



On Feb 1, 2013 Michael wrote:
 It's kinda funny to think of this as a 'New Way' with something that's been around for thousands of years; and it's still all good. Another interesting 'trick' is to ask your self "Who's having these thoughts?" This can lead us deeper and behind the surface distractions.

On Jan 19, 2013 a wrote:
 Yesterday, was "whisper, 'I love you' day" (heard it on the radio).  I missed it by 27 minutes, but wish to have you "fold into your attention" that YOU are very much loved!  Distractions are VERY healthy . . . they help us to meditate on people/things/thoughts outside ourselves.  I think God built distractions into our 'lives of meditation' to add interest/ to take us "off our normal" course for a time.  ilu  

On Jan 17, 2013 Luv4all wrote:
I agree with the point that several people who have meditated for years may not have learned this. This does opens my mind to look at what patterns of behaviour, emotions or situations hook / disrupt my attention. What are those situations / thoughts which make me lose my peace of mind or self control? If I am able to see those and learn to handle them with more insight and observation,that shall resolve several awareness problems and cause permanent, positive change in attitude.

On Jan 15, 2013 navin sata wrote:
 Its most simple ,and hardest thing just live in present moment ,and when reacting be vigilant .whatever it is we are facing it will pass.remember we are not  mind or intlect ,we are user of this brain.always love navinchandra

On Jan 15, 2013 Bruce Preville wrote:
Building the mental muscle of directing our attention is really strengthening and bringing forth our intention, enabling us to maintain our intentions in the face of whatever occurs, whether external or internal, that would otherwise take us out.  Leading a life with intentions remaining present, thereby generating and realizing possibilities consistent with those intentions is living life powerfully.  What this takes is persistent practice of a life-fitness program, like meditating, with coaching to keep us on the path and get us over the bumps along the way.

On Jan 15, 2013 James Cowey wrote:
Meditation doesn't help if your land and house are being napalmed by by US B52 bombers from above, as happened in Vietnam. Or could it? when you fight back, staying focussed in the now and not getting hung up on past failures will allow you to win. When you fight back, accepting reality for what it is (i.e. I might very well die) and simply doing what needs to be done in each moment with no expectation of success will allow you to win, at least within your mind if not physically. Once you commit your life to a cause then even death cannot scare you, and thus you are easily able to enter the now without worrying about the future.

On Jan 14, 2013 Narendra wrote:

Updated ...  What do you understand by "folding everything back into the attention?"  Folding everything into attention means, a macro view of life that includes all things around us including our own ego (thought-patterns) and emotions. This is ‘Sakshitva’. Sakshitva is a background process or a habit of silently witnessing of our own mind and emotions without analysis.’ It is a  macro perspective on life, as is . This helps us share our joys and sorrows with others, and reduces stress and increases happiness. The other choice would be a micro view of life that is ego-centered, where everything revolves around our likes and dislikes. This makes us more reactive and less sensitive to others. How do you develop the ability to not beat yourself up for lapses, and instead constructively move forward? If we have a macro perspective on life, we will be grateful for our blessings. We will also be less critical of others and ourselves. We notice that  See full.

Updated ... 
What do you understand by "folding everything back into the attention?"  Folding everything into attention means, a macro view of life that includes all things around us including our own ego (thought-patterns) and emotions. This is ‘Sakshitva’. Sakshitva is a background process or a habit of silently witnessing of our own mind and emotions without analysis.’ It is a  macro perspective on life, as is . This helps us share our joys and sorrows with others, and reduces stress and increases happiness. The other choice would be a micro view of life that is ego-centered, where everything revolves around our likes and dislikes. This makes us more reactive and less sensitive to others. How do you develop the ability to not beat yourself up for lapses, and instead constructively move forward? If we have a macro perspective on life, we will be grateful for our blessings. We will also be less critical of others and ourselves. We notice that perfection is inconsistent with change and evolution. We can only do our best with presence of mind and ‘witness’ the result. This helps us deal with the ‘lapses’…..If we are ego centered, we unduly force results. Forced results tend to reverse themselves over time. This starts a never-ending, stagnating, lonely fight against our environment, and in the long run, we compromise our happiness and the quality of our life. …..We can stabilize our life and move forward by alternating between the micro and the macro view of life. It is like driving while paying attention to other drivers. Can you share a personal story where this principle has played an important role in your life? It is my experience that the root of all thought problems, are emotions that create micro view of life. It is almost impossible to fix thought problems without fixing emotions first. Self-analysis will help us only until the next emotional outburst and then, self-analysis turns into self-criticism (beat yourself up). If you don’t have emotional outbursts, you don’t need self-analysis. The only way to fix persistent, contradicting, unstable emotions is to reduce their impact by making love our primary emotion. This can be done with meditation on love/heart and witnessing from love/heart. Love stabilizes both our micro and macro perspectives on life - without contradictions.
 

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On Jan 14, 2013 G Narayana wrote:
 When we restrict something or restrain somebody, the reaction is aggressive.  Let the natural flow of thoughts be through our conscious mind and slowly the come and drift away and by being conscious of distractions, we drift off into that blissful state where we experience the inner peace.

On Jan 13, 2013 Narendra wrote:

 What do you understand by "folding everything back into the attention?"  Folding everything into attention means, a macro view of life that includes all things around us, including our own ego (thought-patterns) and emotions. This is ‘Sakshitva’ or a witnessing, macro perspective on life. This helps us share our joys and sorrows with others, and reduces stress and increases happiness. The other choice would be a micro view of life that is ego-centered, where everything revolves around our likes and dislikes. This makes us more reactive and less sensitive to others. How do you develop the ability to not beat yourself up for lapses, and instead constructively move forward? If we have a macro perspective on life, we will be grateful for our blessings. We will also be less critical of ourselves and others. We notice that perfection is inconsistent with change and evolution. We can only do our best with presence of mind and ‘witness’ the result.  See full.

 What do you understand by "folding everything back into the attention?"  Folding everything into attention means, a macro view of life that includes all things around us, including our own ego (thought-patterns) and emotions. This is ‘Sakshitva’ or a witnessing, macro perspective on life. This helps us share our joys and sorrows with others, and reduces stress and increases happiness. The other choice would be a micro view of life that is ego-centered, where everything revolves around our likes and dislikes. This makes us more reactive and less sensitive to others. How do you develop the ability to not beat yourself up for lapses, and instead constructively move forward? If we have a macro perspective on life, we will be grateful for our blessings. We will also be less critical of ourselves and others. We notice that perfection is inconsistent with change and evolution. We can only do our best with presence of mind and ‘witness’ the result. This helps us deal with the ‘lapses’…..If we are ego centered, we unduly force results. Forced results tend to reverse themselves over time. This starts a never-ending, stagnating, lonely fight against our environment, and in the long run, we compromise our happiness and the quality of our life. …..We can stabilize our life and move forward by alternating between the micro and the macro view of life. It is like driving while paying attention to other drivers. Can you share a personal story where this principle has played an important role in your life? It is my experience that the root of all thought problems, are emotions that create micro view of life. It is almost impossible to fix thought problems without fixing emotions first. Self-analysis will help us only until the next emotional outburst and then, self-analysis turns into self-criticism (beat yourself up). If you don’t have emotional outbursts, you don’t need self-analysis. The only way to fix persistent, contradicting, unstable emotions is to reduce their impact by making love our primary emotion. This can be done with meditation on love/heart and witnessing from love/heart. Love stabilizes both our micro and macro perspectives on life - without contradictions.

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On Jan 13, 2013 david doane wrote:

 "Folding everything back into the attention" means an ongoing process of noticing and allowing, allowing and noticing my consciousness.  It is a process of not trying to make anything happen, not manufacturing, not forcing, not inhibiting, not holding on, and simply noticing and allowing.  Deepak Chopra described this meditative mindful process of paying attention as similar to watching the clouds in the sky pass by without getting attached to any cloud, not trying to make anything out of it, not obsessing over it, and simply allow and notice them.  It does happen that I get invested in some cloud, ie, some thought or awareness, or go off into thinking/confabulating/ruminating triggered by some thought or awareness, and when I become aware of that, I hope to have the same attitude of allowing and noticing it, not beat myself up over it, and allow to pass both what I became attached to and my awareness of becoming attached.  I develop ability to not b  See full.

 "Folding everything back into the attention" means an ongoing process of noticing and allowing, allowing and noticing my consciousness.  It is a process of not trying to make anything happen, not manufacturing, not forcing, not inhibiting, not holding on, and simply noticing and allowing.  Deepak Chopra described this meditative mindful process of paying attention as similar to watching the clouds in the sky pass by without getting attached to any cloud, not trying to make anything out of it, not obsessing over it, and simply allow and notice them.  It does happen that I get invested in some cloud, ie, some thought or awareness, or go off into thinking/confabulating/ruminating triggered by some thought or awareness, and when I become aware of that, I hope to have the same attitude of allowing and noticing it, not beat myself up over it, and allow to pass both what I became attached to and my awareness of becoming attached.  I develop ability to not beat myself up by acceptance -- accepting that I have a monkey mind, like most of us humans have, and by having a noticing and allowing attention I become less often captured by that monkey mind, I let it pass, and I and it slow down.  My monkey mind seems to be most active when I wake up at 3 in the morning, and I'm still not very good at staying free of it, but I am more aware and learning. 

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On Jan 11, 2013 Rajesh wrote:
The passage really resonated with me. I like the skillful way in which the author treads into the space of attention and its lapses. After reading the passage, I can see that its the "disruptions" where we "get caught" and lose our attention, bringing much suffering into ones life. While I have approached meditation with a very open mind where all and every thought is allowed to come in and nothing is a distraction, I certainly find it more difficult to approach things that way in daily life. Cultivating attention and awareness is a journey and perhaps being more serious about paying attention will help.


On Jan 11, 2013 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:

 What I understand by "folding everything back into the attention,  and  how I sometimes do not beat myself up for lapses, and instead constructively move forward is by practicing what Reuters science editor, Sharon Begley, and psychiatrist Schwartz said in one of their books: "Through mindfulness you can stand outside your own mind as if you are watching what is happening to another person rather than experiencing it herself… Mindfulness requires direct willful effort, and the ability to forge those practicing it to observe their sensations and thoughts with a calm clarity of an external witness… One views his thoughts, feelings, and expectations much as a scientist views experimental data – – that is, as a natural phenomenon to be noted, investigated, reflected on and learned from.  Viewing one's own inner experience as data allows ( one)  to become, in essence, his own experimental subject."   I do not h  See full.

 What I understand by "folding everything back into the attention,  and  how I sometimes do not beat myself up for lapses, and instead constructively move forward is by practicing what Reuters science editor, Sharon Begley, and psychiatrist Schwartz said in one of their books: "Through mindfulness you can stand outside your own mind as if you are watching what is happening to another person rather than experiencing it herself… Mindfulness requires direct willful effort, and the ability to forge those practicing it to observe their sensations and thoughts with a calm clarity of an external witness… One views his thoughts, feelings, and expectations much as a scientist views experimental data – – that is, as a natural phenomenon to be noted, investigated, reflected on and learned from.  Viewing one's own inner experience as data allows ( one)  to become, in essence, his own experimental subject."   I do not have one personal story where this principle has played an important role in my life, but I notice that when I think of myself as Begley and Schwartz suggest, I find myself relieved, freer and more peaceful.   That is something like seeing myself as a piece of stardust with and among other pieces of stardust.  Or better yet, rather than seeing myself as a drop in the ocean, to see myself as the ocean which happens to be made of many drops.  Being as Begley and Schwartz suggest, I find it easier to increase my tendency to allow things to happen, rather than make things happen. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to respond.  Warm and kind regards to everyone.

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On Jan 11, 2013 chitarta wrote:

 years back i went to a vipassana retreat in sri lanka, nilambe, a beautiful nature setting, very quiet. after 10 days i left the retreat to visit kandy. i walked down the hill 35 minutes in walking meditation to reach a bus to town. when the bus arrived it was crowded. i hardly could get into the bus. it was hot. i managed after hanging for a while outside the bus, getting more inside. i felt irritated about this condition. after sitting 10 days on my own meditation cushion in peace undisturbed. somebody stepped on my toes, anger arising. how could he do this. we were packed like sardines in a tin, sweating, bad smells. why don't they have more busses? then i got pushed over, poked in my ribs, ok this is enough i started loudly complaining and felt so sorry for myself. the 10 days of practise, peace,  happyness had turned sour quickly.                       i got my l  See full.

 years back i went to a vipassana retreat in sri lanka, nilambe, a beautiful nature setting, very quiet. after 10 days i left the retreat to visit kandy. i walked down the hill 35 minutes in walking meditation to reach a bus to town. when the bus arrived it was crowded. i hardly could get into the bus. it was hot. i managed after hanging for a while outside the bus, getting more inside. i felt irritated about this condition. after sitting 10 days on my own meditation cushion in peace undisturbed. somebody stepped on my toes, anger arising. how could he do this. we were packed like sardines in a tin, sweating, bad smells. why don't they have more busses? then i got pushed over, poked in my ribs, ok this is enough i started loudly complaining and felt so sorry for myself. the 10 days of practise, peace,  happyness had turned sour quickly.
                      i got my lesson from life. after a cup of coffee and a sweet i felt a bit better, but i decided next time i will do it another way.
after 10 days again walking-meditation down the hill, but with the intention of taking EVERYTHING which might happen in the bus as a practise of WELCOMING all events as they are and just noticing the minds response. so here we are again. same crowded bus. hanging outside feeling the wind on my body. tensed arm from hanging there. inside a goat peed on my foot. i noticed the warms of pee, the smell....and welcomed it. then a basket with fruit tipped over and the fruit knocked me on my head.....the lady smiled at me i smiled back, a bit frustrated. suddenly the bus breaked hard and i got squeezed and again stepped on my toes, the pain was noticed without judgement and so it wasn't that bad as everybody nearly fell over and laughter started about this in a way funny situation.......when we arrived in kandy i was more sweaty then last time my toes were bleeding, but the attitude of WELCOMING all experiences as they are including emotional responses and nothing judged or resisted. kept the mind cool, receptive and at peace.

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