Centeredness of attention

The focus of conscious attention

Attention is a function of the mind used to select which object we put into our field of consciousness; so sometimes the ability to be attentive and one’s conscience is confused. The ability to be aware incorporate the focus (attend) of any cognizable object and also its perception, while the consciousness field consists of all objects focused.

We say that the mind is concentrated when attention is held in a single simple object: the field of consciousness is narrow. Not the usual state, on the contrary, attention tends to change constantly from one object to another. For example, while we are doing a routine activity our thoughts come and go, and usually our attention follow them, so we are doing the activity almost unconsciously, unattended, in automatic mode, we can even seem absent during the activity, because our conscious attention is trapped in random thoughts.

This constant mental rumination is dysfunctional, as has been scientifically proven: produces a feeling of uneasiness and discontent. The various relaxation techniques and meditation seek to reduce this background mental activity calming the mind (for example, walking beside the sea, attending sensations) and moving the focus from thoughts to other objects, such as the body itself.

Attention captured by thoughts

Normally, our focus of attention are the body itself, the sensory information, and the thoughts, the latter being preponderant. Also, being the psychological self (also called ego) a mixture of thoughts and memories (we can say we think ourselves), the preferential attention to one’s thoughts is closely related to the sense of self: when a thought emerges, we believe that we ourselves are thinking, and obviously we full attend that thought. We could say that thoughts, self, and attention are entangled, making it difficult to discriminate between them. As more enmeshed they are, the person most difficulties will have for stop the automatically attending to all that the mind randomly propose him, whether good or bad, positive or negative, important or trivial; there is an identification of the person with their thoughts.

Centeredness of care

In conscious relaxation we relax and attend to the pleasant sensations that produces relaxation,  and in meditation we learn to calm our mind. When we have acquired some practice in such techniques, it becomes evident, and this is a fact proved by experience and also by science, there arises a new deeper self, one that is not any thought but is directly experienced, lived. For this deep I, which is also commonly called the inner witness, we have not yet scientific theories that explain it is, but we know the effects produced by: a mental stability and peace is achieved. Such deep I is experienced at first stages as something vague, like a calm presence that is watching without acting.

When we have some practice to feel it, we can start trying a more advanced meditation practice, one we know as centering of attention from the inner self, or simply centeredness. It consists of, from the inner I, acting as if we were him, observe the entire field of consciousness: our body, emotions, sensory information, and thoughts, but not jumping from one to another, as usual, instead,  watching them all at once, like all of them were a unique pack; all the possible objects of consciousness are incorporated into a wide field of consciousness, observed from the deep self.

We call the body-mind centering the ability to align or combine three human capacities: thinking (mind), feeling (emotions, feelings) and make (body) – Luis Lopez – Relaxation in the classroom.

Centeredness … is learning to stand and stay (in the deep identity) as long as we can. I am that who are seeing, feeling, doing physically – A. Blay – Self

Centeredness in the sense of identity merging with pure attention, it is not ideas about oneself. This enables addressing all aspects of the person at the same time and also have a sense of freedom of action upon them.

Centeredness exercise

I transcribed below the exercise of centeredness as I am doing in my daily practice; remember that it is not an exercise for initiation to meditation, if you try before having achieved a certain mental stability, through initial relaxation exercises and meditation, chances are that no results are obtained. But if we have already experienced, we became aware of this profound I that observes everything that happens without action, beyond thoughts, then we can try this more advanced practice.

Preliminaries
We find ourselves in our favorite meditation position, in the right place. Relax the body, releasing tension. Breathe deeply, slowly, deliberately, two or three times.

Then we made our favorite relaxation exercise or meditation, in order to calm and relax the mind. Whatever the technique chosen, to the end we have to be in a relaxed state but mindfully. We dedicate a minimum of 10 minutes and a maximum of 20 to this stage.

Centering
Then we close our eyes and take care of our body: we note their presence, we focus our attention on it,  without any purpose, without judging or thinking about it, we just attend, we are there. Note also their weight, the pressure points that body weight exerts on the chair or mat. We spend about three minutes.

Then we attend to our senses: in succession, focus each of them, touch (throughout the body, the clothes we wear, the air in contact with skin), smell (which smells detect?), taste (what flavor we have in the mouth?), hearing (noise both inside our body, in the room, and also far away). About three minutes.

Then we attend to our emotions, our emotional state: what is? We feel that physical, soft feeling, which is the emotional state when we are relaxed, focusing our attention there for a few minutes.

In the next stage we attend our thoughts, our mind: “observe” the interior space where thoughts arise, perhaps at that time does not arise any but the space is there. If you experience any, then observe how thought appears and disappears again in the space of mind. We were there about  two minutes.

Now try to attend to all of the above, but not in sequence but in block: the entire field, including the body, senses, emotions and thoughts. To do this, we can imagine that “we step back” to gain perspective and mentally become able to cover everything with our attention. We stay there all we can, experiencing the feeling of cover the whole field of consciousness without identifying with any of its contents.

Exiting: As usual, breathing deeply, gently mobilizing joints, opening eyes and slowly getting back to normal physical consciousness.

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“They say they think with their heads”

There is a story according to which C.G. Jung, the well-known psychiatrist, met while their journey to Mexico with an Indian named Ochwiä Biano (mountain lake), this one comment:

The whites always want something, are uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think they’re crazy.

When Jung asked him why he believed that all white men were crazy, the Indian replied:

They say they think with their heads.

Jung, surprised, said: “of course, don’t you do so way?”, and the Indian, pointing to his heart, said: “We think here.”

Actually now a days there are a revival of the role played for the body in decision making, strange as it can seem for our intellectualized society; there are IQ, intelligence quotient, but also EQ, emotional quotient, and emotions born both from body and mind, and even SQ, spiritual intelligence quotient. The body reacts to the environment independently of the intellect, and with training we can feel their instinctive messages. If Jung was true with their theory of collective unconscious, our body, thought the individual unconscious, is able to connect with the collective one and get information beyond the scope of our intellect.

Maybe the ancient tribes was true, and the excessive use of intellect in the developed societies is the source of most of our troubles, maybe is time to recover our body intelligence, our connection with the Nature and the whole.

 

 

The way of knowledge

Desires and knowledge

According to the ancient Vedas, we have a soul, and such soul has four distinct desires. The first is dharma, the desire to fully become who we were meant to be, the longing to achieve our highest state of well-being to fulfill our destiny. The second desire is artha, the desire for the material means (money, health) necessary for fulfill our dharma. The third desire is kama, the longing for pleasure in any and all forms. The fourth is moksha, the desire to be free from the burdens of the world, experiencing spirit, to achieve lasting peace and a state beyond the reach of the other three desires.

The more separated from the whole we feel, the more egoistic will be our desires. Our knowledge of the world depends on our mind (manas), and also the fulfilment of our desires; when the mind is exclusively dedicated to fulfil egoistic desires, the knowledge is lower, indeed is ignorance. One of the schools of classical Yoga, Jnana Yoga, aims to develop higher, true knowledge. Is the way suitable for intellectual people. In ordinary people mind is so dedicated to fulfil selfish desires than become entangled with them, making a mess named kama-manas, “desire-mind”.

A short tale

Once upon a time, in the Indian part of Punjab region,  there was a young promising teacher of University, doing his post-doctoral stage: Harmanpreet, who was both a very clever man but also a follower of ancient traditions, he meditated every morning for half an hour and also use to read spiritual books. Moreover, he had a mystic temperament, he can feel joy deeply and also he can feel sorrow very deeply, more deeply than the average person, because they was more sensitive and clever. Harmanpreet was also an amorous man, that is, strongly disposed to romantic love, considered for him the highest form of love while we are in the world. He had fallen in love sometimes since their adolescence, but nothing serious.

It was the first year in  the University for Advita, a girl belonging to the low Indian caste named Shudras. Her family was a very conservative one, but also they had a strong ambition, a will of become respected in spite of their caste; the father was a respected engineering, and he wanted all their sons and also daughters had also a career, and a good job. In the Hindu tradition Advita was starting to be marriageable, so their parents started to think about, despite she was not interested at all in such subject, she was only nineteen years old.

It happens that Advita felt attracted by Harmanpreet, one or her teachers; he was so polite and clever … Soon she look for him in Facebook and ask him friendship. Harmanpreet wondered a bit, is not usual such event, a student asking friendship with a teacher, but at last he accepted. Next night, after dinner, while Harmanpreet was working on his laptop, Advita opened a chat with him, and ask him about some academic topics, starting a chat that prolonged for two hours; the two young talked about music, travels, movies, etc etc. When chat was over, Harmanpreet felt a smooth excitation, a sense of happiness, it was a very nice chat. Next weeks such chats became common, strengthening the new friendship. Slowly, almost unwittingly, such chats became the most desired times of the day. In classroom both kept their composure, they  greet with a smile, no more.

At last Harmanpreet noticed he was deeply in love with Advita, a love strong and deeper than any other he was experienced before, so he started to make plans: he imagined being presented to her parents, who sure would be happy because he was a promising teacher, also imagined a very happy, joyful life. But when the young teacher opened their heart to Advita, problems started: their parents never will let her marry with somebody that was not their own choice, arranged with the family; even more, both young was of different castes: Harmanpreet was a brahmin, the higher caste, while Advita was a Shudra, low caste. Advita’s parents was against mixed caste marriages. Being Advita  educated in obedience and respect, also considering family the most important thing it the life, any dating with Harmanpreet was closed.

So Advita started to avoid Harmanpreet, chats was over, even she didn’t greet him at class, ignoring him, although she also loved him. When Harmanpreet accepted such way, ignoring her, then the girl felt stupid herself, and looked for him with her best sonrisa, trying to keep the friendship, then Harmanpreet regained hope, trying to go further, causing the reaction of Advita, who moved away again. Such cycle happened and happened, causing a lot of suffering to Harmanpreet, who even felt ill, feverishly.

He started to meditate in the situation, reflecting, even contemplating the situation, looking for relief. While meditating, he stopped their mind from wandering, and contemplating the facts from a mindfulness state. One day he was contemplating the fact: “when I try to get close to her, following my strong desire for her, she go further, and when we relax my desire, waiting nothing, then she returns, giving me their friendship“; suddenly he had an insight, “selfish desire for her is not love, on the contrary, my desire prevents her love”  and at the same time, he noticed a strange feeling of let go, something released from him. At that very moment the longing for a romantic love was dissolved  for the insight, because he realized passionate love was not the higher kind of love, indeed, the higher love is the unattached one, when we are able to give without expect anything in return: True Love is what remains when the selfish passion ends. And Harmanpreet ceased to suffering, entering in a peaceful loving state.

The desire that Harmanpreet felt was very strong indeed, covering the four Vedic desires: he experienced dharma, the longing to achieve their highest state of well-being and fulfill their destiny, thinking Advita was the way for achieve it; also he experienced artha, the desire for the material means, thinking about Advita as it; evidently he also experienced kama, the longing for pleasure, and until a certain point also experienced moksha, the desire to experiencing spirit, to achieve lasting peace, imagining he will feel the higher kind of love through Advita. After the insight, such desires became highly purified. Harmanpreet now only wants the best for Advita, also the best for all the people around; he himself had pure Love in their heart, waiting any chance for share it with anybody, without  expectations. Such state is blissful. Harmanpreet is now a  Jnana yogi, he has higher knowledge about life and love.

Spiritual Psychology

Classical Indian mysticism compares the mind to a lake, there are strong winds called emotions blowing on the surface; as a result, the water is moving constantly, sometimes slightly, sometimes making a storm. There are two paths for overcome such storms: one is calming the mind, which become peaceful like a high mountain lake; the other is learning to dive into the depths of mind. The former can be achieved through meditation and also through other disciplines, like emotional management, positive psychology, relaxation, and others. The last, a more direct approach, as far as I know can only be achieved through meditation; what we will find under the surface of mind? The description we will give here could be named the one of  a “Spiritual Psychology”.

Just below the surface there are a small level named individual consciousness; being so near to the surface, such level is still easily stirred by the winds of emotions and sense impressions. In this level we live the duality: we identify us with our thoughts, and we believe we are separated from the world.

Underlying this level we can find the depths of collective unconscious, named “alaya-vijnana” for the Buddha. This level is non-dual: there are only one alaya-vijnana, when we reach it, our consciousness expands embracing the whole. If we learn to dive into such deep level of mind, we become free from the influence of any storm at the surface; there are no need to calm the winds, simply we are not affected by them. Is easy to find people training themselves for achieve very difficult aims,  like run a Marathon, climb the Himalayas, swim kilometers in the sea, … but of what real use is all of it? With similar amount of effort we learn to dive in our deep mind, achieving the peace which overcome any description, named “Shanti” in the Hindu tradition, or “the peace of the Lord” in the Christian one.

There are a lot of disciplines and methods that study the mind from the same point of view  also used for study the physical environment; being the mind so subtil, seems clear that such methods are too rude for really dive deep in the nature of mind. Moreover, being ourselves identified with our mind, we become unable for to be objective, living only in the surface of the mind. When we dive the mind through meditation, we discover our identity is beyond our individual mind; in such peaceful state we experience the bliss of the unified life; in such moments we live as, we are the soul, or the higher self, or the Atman, there are many names for label it, but names are not important, is a lived experience, we must live it for ourselves.

Nature evolution has given us with a so sophisticated nervous system that it be able to connect, through appropriate training and tuning, with subtil, higher orders of existence, beyond the physical world. Ancient sages of India and also of Egypt was, maybe, the first divers of the mind, about two or three thousand years ago; now a days there are hundreds of thousand of meditators, following any of the many self development disciplines. Knowing the first human beings appeared on the Earth about two millions years ago, the time between the first meditators and us seems very short:

temps humanitat

Using a scale of 100.000 years, the time between us and the first known meditators appears as a point (in the figure, the red point) in the last section of human being existence on Earth. 

From this point of view, seems we are the first of a new human species, the meditators one, and we live in a transition epoch, at the doors of a new gold age:

Tao evolución

The next step of human evolution? Image from the book “Buddha’s Nature – Wes Nisker

This post was inspired by the book “Conquest of Mind” by Eknath Easwaran, and also is based on personal experiences.

A mind inside a Mind

Some days ago I attended a seminar about Advaita Vedanta, the School of Philosophy that states the unity of our individual soul with the Universal one. The conferenciant, an experimented teacher which 3o years of work in the topic, chose to give a more practical than theoretical lecture, so he gave us numerous examples of non dual experiences, meditation and other amazing tales that he lived for himself, some of which really impressed the audience.

In one of such tales he told us he was very shy in their young days, so the first time he had to talk in public, in an oral exam in the University, he became so nervous, so excited, that he experienced a body dissociation: suddenly, he was watching their own body in front of them. Being amazing, the next fact is even more incredible: the body, alone, started to talk … for forty minutes! During the monologue he was watching the whole scene some metres away, probably through “other body”, maybe an etheric body or something similar.

Assuming that such a story was true, one of the questions that arise is: if the guy was out of his body, then who was talking? Indeed, that strange story remembered me other one that happened to me in my childhood, not so amazing of course, but more real for me. I was only seven years old, and I was in the Maths class; the teacher was asking us questions, one by one. It happens that such teacher physically punished “bad students”, those who were not able to answer questions, and I was one of them. Indeed, I knew well the punishments, like being hit with a wooden ruler … the fact is I was terrified, as the teacher approached my fear grew and grew, until I became paralysed, unable to speak. Then, when the teacher at last arrived to me, something very strange happened, something difficult to explain, but also something I will never forget: “my body  talked”, not “me”; my “I” was shocked, closed within … what? Not sure, but I didn’t listen the question,  I was not there for listen it. Yet the answer cames … and was the right one! I remember the teacher looked at me with a strange expression, and advanced for ask the next classmate. I have no idea what they asked or what I answered, but the answer was the right one!

Both tales have a common characteristic: the identity of the person abandon the scene, running away, yet the body alone is able to do the work without “us”. How is possible? For me there are only one explanation: the oneness of mind. In the Advaita philosophy is said “the individual soul and the Universal soul are one“; I think the individual mind and the Universal mind are also one, and are intimately connected. When the individual desperately look for an answer, or a knowledge, and then their conscience abandon “the scene”, seems possible that the Universal mind temporarily occupied his place in the body, and do the work. How is possible? Because both minds, the individual and the Universal are one, the separation is entirely a product of our limited mind, that imagine we are isolated individuals.

Moreover, the Universal mind is not limited, having all the answers, all the existent knowledge, no question is too hard for it. The implications of this possibility are impressive.  If we are identified with our minds it will be almost impossible to accept such hypothesis, but if we can accept we are much more than our limited individual minds, is a plausible theory.

I’ve write  about the possibility of an Universal Mind time ago, so I don’t insist again here, the aim of this post is show another subjective fact, lived for me, also lived for an Advaita master, that can be explained in terms of a non dual, all pervading Mind. Being such Mind all pervading, supporting all the manifested things, it follows our individual minds also are within the Universal one. That’s why I chose “A mind inside a Mind” as the title of this post.

What are we, and who are we?

Superficially thinking, it seems the same: what and who you are; for example, a lawyer, working eight, perhaps ten hours a day, their mind full of laws, legal proceedings, appointments, etc. When somebody ask about her … “who is she?”  the answer probably will be: “a lawyer”.  But when this lawyer arrives at home, he forgets their job and becomes a wife, also a mother, and she is able to play other rules, like a friend, a follower of their local basket team, a sister, etc. We can say she is all of these rules, and at the same time she’s not any of them. What she is is the whole set of roles, also their thoughts, their objects of consciousness, all of those “objects” are what she is, in every moment, because those objects are variable with time. But, who is she indeed?

The individual mind absorbs almost all our consciousness

Imagine a guy in front of a computer; he’s absorbed looking at the screen. The computer is running many programs, and the user is attending them, paying attention one by one, because he’s not able to attend more than one program simultaneously. Sometimes the user starts a new program, sometimes close another, but there are always many programs running; moreover, the computer never stops.

The computer is a metaphor of the individual mind, and the programs are the thoughts; programs are a bit independents, once they are started, they are able to start other programs, in a non-endless activity, like the so called “monkey mind”, because is alike a monkey, jumping from branch to branch without stop, and without any definite purpose. Eventually, the user has very brief moments in which he notice himself as an user, but the feeling quickly dissolves, and the attention returns to the screen.

It happens that from looking and paying constant attention to something external to the subject itself, the user forgets himself, and comes to identify himself with the computer, or with the programs, or both.

A network of individual minds, and the Universal Mind

Some users have noticed their computers are connected with all the other computers in a network; the information, also the programs, are flowing through the net. So they feel connected with the world. As the user was identified with their computer, when he notice all the computers are like one big one, they experience an expansion of awareness, feeling as themselves were all the computers, feeling a sense of wholeness.  Similar with the mind: all the minds are interconnected with other minds and with the environment; realizing it deeply gives us such sense of wholeness. What we are becomes the whole.

However, we still are somebody …

Even when our field of consciousness expands and eventually encompasses everything, still there are an observer, the subject, in the middle of the field. The subject always has been there, unobserved; the field are constantly changing, the subject not. Can we define precisely the subject? They are not any of the contents of the consciousness: not thoughts, not emotions, not mind; is beyond. So the subject himself is … nothing! From the point of view of consciousness he’s like a point without dimensions in the middle of the field, containing nothing at all. However, we are him, we are beyond our consciousness, our higher identity is beyond mind. Here I’m stating something I think is very important: even when our consciousness expands and becomes Universal consciousness, we retain our identity, but is a identity  very different from the low identity named ego. Is the Self, the higher Self.

God replied to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you.”  Exodus 3:14 – Old Testament – The Bible

Is something similar to this: an identity which simply is, without any attribute.

You have no caste or duties. You are invisible, unattached, formless.
You are the Witness of all things.
Be happy. Ashtavakra Gita