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Monday, July 19, 2004



Ennis, who writes over here at Ishbadiddle,

pointed this one out:

More than a few years ago, amid the frenzy of holiday shopping at Bloomingdale's, I finally reached the checkout counter, which was commanded by a young man who calmly leaned over and said to me, sotto voce:

I am the eye of the hurricane.

All around me is chaos.

Frustration and annoyance are lessons.

All obstacles are tools for learning.

May I help you, sir?

Reciting this wisdom to myself has been inspirational and has served me well in many unavoidably difficult situations. I pass this profound ditty to fellow readers to honor the spirit of all street philosophers-- Jon A. Lieberman


Ah -- but how to practice attention and concentration? Many of the meditation books are very general on the topic, and I've been combing Amazon in vain. Any suggestions? And how does one measure output? Biofeedback? Or just effects on life?


I don't know about measuring output. It is quite subjective.

I actually started attention training while riding horses. My coach, Mary Wanless, would ask about every 60-90 seconds, "what are you feeling now?" as I did one thing or another--haunches-in, or 10 meter circle, or whatever, as a way of helping me--well, all her students--develop the habit of awareness.

The second thing she did was related, which is to generate a list of 3-5 things to attend to, things that needed correction or improvement, and "run the list" as often as possible.

You can do the attention thing yourself, if you have a programmable chime on your computer or can get a digital timer. Just set it to ring or chime every few minutes, and see if you are paying attention or off in the clouds.

Another is meditation. Well, here's a quote about the WHY:

(I'm leaving the URL bare because I've noticed that the Dharma links tend to rot quick)

When you first become aware of something there is a fleeting instant of pure awareness just before you conceptualize he thing, before you identify it. That is a stage of Mindfulness (Sati). Ordinarily, this stage is very short. It is that flashing split second just before you focus your eyes on the thing, just before you focus your mind on the thing, just before you objectify it, clamp down on it mentally and segregate it from the rest of existence. It takes place just before ,you start thinking about it - before that little 'yak, yak' machine inside your skull says, "Oh, it's a dog." That flowing, soft-focused moment of pure awareness is Mindfulness (Sati). In that brief flashing mind- moment you experience a thing as an un-thing. You experience a softly flowing moment of pure experience that is interlocked with the rest of reality, not separate from it.

Mindfulness is very much like what you see with your peripheral vision as opposed to the hard focus of normal or central vision. Yet this moment of soft, unfocused, awareness contains a very deep sort of knowing that is lost as soon as you focus your mind and objectify the object into a thing. In the process of ordinary perception, the Mindfulness (Sati) step is so fleeting as to be unobservable.

We have developed the habit of squandering our attention on all the remaining steps, focusing on the perception, cognizing the perception, labeling it, and most od all, getting involved in a long string of symbolic thought about it. That original moment of Mindfulness just gets lost in the shuffle. It is the purpose of the above mentioned Vipassana (or insight) meditation to train us to prolong that moment of awareness.

Training the mind is just like training anything else: repetition counts.

Here's a little introduction to meditation:

How to Meditate

There are lots of different meditation techniques but here is a simple and easy one based on counting the breaths. (You are going to aim to do this, for starters, about 5 minutes at a time 3 times a day. You can do it in the car. You can do it in traffic (if you are the passenger).

1. Sit upright on a straight-backed chair or sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor. Try to maintain a relaxed pose but keep the back straight and the head slightly bowed. No need for contortions - be kind to your knee joints!

2. Close your eyes, check for muscle tension throughout your body and focus on the area that is causing the tension, consciously relaxing the muscles.

3. Make sure your mouth is closed and focus on the breath entering your nostrils. Don't try to force or regulate the breath, just breathe normally. Gradually, your breathing will become steadier and more gentle but there's no need to consciously aim to achieve this. Let the natural rhythm of your breathing take charge.

4. After a few minutes, begin to make a mental note of the breaths 'one' [in breath] 'one' [out breath], 'two' [in breath] 'two' [out breath] and so on up to ten.

5. What you will find is that your mind wanders - as the mind does! Don't be put off by this, the mind is used to getting its own way and having a totally free rein. Just keep coming back to the counting.

6. If you prefer, don't bother counting and just concentrate on the breath as the air touches your nostrils. Make this the focus of your attention.

7. Don't try to achieve anything. Meditation is not a feat of endurance or a quest for dramatic experiences. At its most basic it's a means of relaxing both body and mind. 

8. Practice this every day - morning and evening if possible - and see for yourself the benefits that develop from it.

9. As you get into the habit of meditating you might like to sit for longer periods. It will depend, to a large extent, on your other commitments.

10. Finally, this is one meditation method amongst many others. Explore other methods and find one that suits you. 

More or different practices--here's a good index:

And here is the kind way to deal with yourself (the whole page has mindfulness instructions:

Then we realize that, even though what we're doing is quite simple, we have a tremendous number of ideas, thoughts and concepts —about life and about the practice itself. And the way we deal with all these thoughts is simply by labeling them. We just note to ourselves that we're thinking, and return to following the breath.

So if we wonder what we're going to do for the rest of our life, we simply label it thinking. If we wonder what we're going to have for lunch, simply label it thinking. Anything that comes up, we gently acknowledge it and let it go.

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