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benos

Freedom and Attention

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benos   

I know this is out there, but it was a life altering experience so I felt the urge to put some words to it.

Mr. Tucker (the coolest dog in the world) and I were walking in the park as a girl was approaching on her bicycle. I noticed she had a slight smile and was making partial eye contact with me and Mr. Tucker. I let out a big smile, waved and said good morning. When she responded with a full on smile and eye contact, all at once I was overwhelmed with the feeling of how to live, happily and freely, in each moment. That moment, for both of us, was perfect and complete.

We experience life as a series of moments. Within each moment lies the potential for being totally free and happy.

Why don't we feel free and happy all the time? It's the enemy of all that's good, habit. Our mental habit energy obscures the natural, calm, aware state we all possess but typically are unaware of. Endlessly thinking in terms of the past or future, we seldom allow ourselves to be fully absorbed in the present moment. We might feel a little peace when we are petting a dog or enjoying a beautiful sunset, when we have stopped thinking about ourselves and all our problems. Otherwise our mental energy is consumed by thinking about things we can not do anything about, or will not do anything about.

All of our problems come from not being aware of what we think about.

[09.09.15, Edit: It's not "what" we think about that creates our problems; it is that we don't know we are thinking.]

That we are always thinking instead of paying attention to what we are doing is due one factor: conditioning. We think and do as we have been taught to think and do. We are not versed in the art of simply paying attention. Paying attention to what? To what is appearing in our own mind; whether it be a bird, a gentle breeze, or a thought.

After years of incessantly thinking and worrying about things we are not going to do or cannot change, this debilitating internal dialogue turns our brain into a mentally destructive habit machine.

When we are not aware of our thoughts, we are distracted. Distracted from the pure beauty and perfection of the present moment.

Fortunately there is a cure for distraction, and the sadness and sorrow that are the result of it: attention! biggrin.gif (You probably knew I was going to say that.)

There are several methods for training attention. The first, and easiest to learn, requires keeping your mind focused on an object. The object can be anything. If you are sitting still it might be the floor or the sky. Or your breath. Just know you are breathing. That's all you need to do. If you truly know you are breathing, from moment to moment, your mind will be thought-free and thus not crippling itself.

I highly recommend allowing yourself 15 to 25 minutes each day to just sit quietly and know you are breathing. If you are not doing something that requires thinking, like sitting or walking, know you are breathing. Stick with it, and you will not doubt the purifying power of knowing.

At first you'll notice it is difficult to know you are breathing for more than a moment or two. Don't make that a problem. Just turn your mind back on your breathing as soon as you notice your are thinking. Over and over and over, that is the practice. Simple, but hard to do, especially in the beginning. Since only attention can undermine habit, make paying attention a way of life.

Another method to train attention is to simply pay attention to whatever you are doing. For example, when washing the dishes, listen! Listen to the sound of the water and the dishes. When sweeping, know the sound of the broom. When you drink water, know whether it is cool or warm.

The third, and most difficult method is to maintain a knowing state of mind. Maintain presence of mind. A popular Buddhist idiom is, "Mind is that which knows." Knows what? Knowing if within your own mind there is thinking, or stillness. Moment to moment, maintain presence of mind. And see what you discover.

When training in any method, whenever you notice you were not aware that you were thinking, turn your attention back on either your breathing, the task at hand, or your mind. Be alive in that brief moment when attention turns around and witness - thought is replaced by pure awareness. Stay right there. Keep a knowing mind.

It is said that to study Zen is study oneself. In 35 years of study the most valuable thing I learned is that right now is all there is.
be

A few of my favorites from Zen master Boddhidharma on this topic:

"Everything good has awareness for its root."

"Not to be subject to affliction is what's meant by liberation. There is no other liberation."

Question: If someone is determined to reach enlightenment, which is the most essential method he can practice?
Answer: The most essential method, which includes all other methods, is beholding the mind.

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I just got back from doing what you had said, what an uplifting way to start your day!

I went outside to drink some cofee and to gather as much stimulis as i could. After having a high stressfull day yesterday. This was very calming and relaxing. I sat out on the back porch, took some deep breaths of the nice cool air, and just observed. I was enjoying the little things. I could feel the cool breeze on my arms. I could see the freshness of a new day, the grass was wet from the dew. I could hear all the birds around me and if I closed my eyes I could hear the early morning traffic about a 2 miles away. When i close my eyes I would focus more on my hearing and the outside stimulus like the cool breeze. But it was great to do this. It like took the edge off, and felt very relaxing! It took me down a couple of notches, nothing else mattered just breathing and accumulating. this should be incorporated into everyone's routine! we live in such a fast paced society, where we have deadlines, and people pulling on our shirt all the time, its good to have some sort of outlet.

Thanks for sharing Brian!

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eerw   

Very cool way of turning off distractions. I did find this interesting sensation of nothingness, kind of floating. At the peak of the when you have ended an exhale, but haven't started inhaling. It feels ??? I don't know quite how to describe it.

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Very deep, and yet very simple at the same time. Thanks Brian! And thanks Sean, for your insight on the subject too. That makes me realize how much I let my mind run at 100mph all day every day, because there is so many things that need to get done, but all I really need to do is breathe & focus on the task at hand, not the past & not the future .... Right here, right now! :)

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benos   

I just got back from doing what you had said, what an uplifting way to start your day!

I went outside to drink some cofee and to gather as much stimulis as i could. After having a high stressfull day yesterday. This was very calming and relaxing. I sat out on the back porch, took some deep breaths of the nice cool air, and just observed. I was enjoying the little things. I could feel the cool breeze on my arms. I could see the freshness of a new day, the grass was wet from the dew. I could hear all the birds around me and if I closed my eyes I could hear the early morning traffic about a 2 miles away. When i close my eyes I would focus more on my hearing and the outside stimulus like the cool breeze. But it was great to do this. It like took the edge off, and felt very relaxing! It took me down a couple of notches, nothing else mattered just breathing and accumulating. this should be incorporated into everyone's routine! we live in such a fast paced society, where we have deadlines, and people pulling on our shirt all the time, its good to have some sort of outlet.

Thanks for sharing Brian!

:cheers:

Good job!

be

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benos   

I remembered another Bhodidharma favorite on this topic, so I added it to the OP.

Question: If someone is determined to reach enlightenment, which is the most essential method he can practice?

Answer: The most essential method, which includes all other methods, is beholding the mind.

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admRSX   

I honestly believe that if I am able to do this that it will solve a lot of problems in my life. I have a lot of issues with anxiety and stress.

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SiG Lady   

I'm currently engaged in an online career enhancement program (school) and am gradually becoming more stressed with the need to excel and get top-notch grades. I reliably do very well in academic situations but the online thing is a little less personal and is considered "distance learning"--the emphasis on "distance", really. It's different.

I love what I'm studying (law) but the re-emergence of the stress-to-be-excellent has sure reared its ugly head. Perhaps there's a reason I suddenly decided to read this thread. I'm one of those people who holds one's breath when stressed. That's pretty much the OPPOSITE of this "breathing" thing Brian is talking about! Jeez! :rolleyes:

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benos   

I honestly believe that if I am able to do this that it will solve a lot of problems in my life.

I agree, only I would say it will solve all our problems. All you need to do is become aware of thoughts you were previously unaware of.

Our basic mind is naturally intelligent - in that it won't harm itself, if it is allowed to activate. When you notice, or suddenly become accutely aware of a thought string that is mentally debilitating - that you've thought maybe a thousand times but just now for the first time really noticed - you will say, wow, that thought string is nothing but damaging - I don't need to think about that any more. Then immediately turn your mind back to beholding again.

When you set your resolve to behold your mind, at first you will only catch what's going on occasionally. But with practice you will catch a negative thought string more quickly and more often. So in the beginning you become aware for short moments, repeated as often as possible throughout the day, by reminding yourself to be aware of what's going on in your own mind. There will always be one of two qualitites - either thinking or silence. Notice how when you deliberately turn your mind inward and notice a thought, in the moment of noticing, you stop thinking. In that brief moment, perfect, silent awareness is all that remains - it is all there is. That's all you need to do. Notice, let go. Notice, let go. Over and over and over. That is the practice.

After a sustained amout of practice, "letting go" will no longer be necessary. Because letting go occurs simultaneously with noticing.

As you become more tuned in to what goes on in your mind, you will see your mind has three basic qualities: Indifference, distraction, or awareness (or "not distracted"). The goal is to remain in a state of non-distraction. We can forget indifference for now, because we are seldom truly indifferent. By being indifferent I mean being oblivious. Like if you were just hit over the head by a baseball bat and were knocked out cold.

Adults are typically in a state of continuous distraction: We are unaware of what we are thinking about while doing some routine task. All human problems are bred, nutured, and matured in the state of distraction.

One of my (and Kyles's) favorite Maku mozo!'s, from Shunryu Suzuki, is, "Things go the way the mind goes." Our problem is, we don't know where our mind has been going. That's what we must change. We have to become aware of where we allow, in distraction, our mind to go. Seeing that is enough.

be

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benos   
On 10/8/2010 at 4:46 PM, benos said:

I remembered another Bhodidharma favorite on this topic, so I added it to the OP.

Question: If someone is determined to reach enlightenment, which is the most essential method he can practice?

Answer: The most essential method, which includes all other methods, is beholding the mind.

One more from Bodhidharma that's been with me a lot lately... If you use your mind to study reality you won't understand either your mind or reality. If you study reality without using your mind, you'll understand both.

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Thinking of your first post in this thread about attention.

I've found for me I was able to attain that attention or freedom of my conscious mind by riding a motorbike (ducati superbike). Previously I would drive, take a taxi, train or bus from work. On that journey between my office and my home I would be thinking about work, thinking about what's for dinner, thinking about other problems. Even driving I was not focused on driving, I was focused on other things.

riding a 1000cc superbike on the other hand requires or even demands you attention. You are using both feet and both hands to ride the bike, as well as shifting your body weight. You are using your other senses too. In fact probably all of them except taste. touch on the bike, listening for noises that give clues to traffic around you, condition of your bikes engine and brakes, listening for the engine note to change to tell you when to shift gear, smell, you notice smells in the air you would never notice in a car (I used to ride past a fish market every night - above it on an elevated road, it always was interesting), you are constantly using your sight, looking at instruments, looking at other cars, gauging their intentions through the attitude of their vehicle, through eye contact or lack of.

When riding such a bike at a reasonable pace (I can't ride slow!) and through heavy traffic my mind was totally at attention. totally focused on those moments. On the bike I always arrived home feeling fresh and relaxed even though it was only as short as a 10 min ride or a 20min ride at most. With all senses occupied, all limbs at use simultaneously and your mind rapidly taking in input and making decisions it leaves no room for those negative thoughts.

Ducati superbike - instant zen for the man-child with ADHD. :)

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benos   
On 10/8/2010 at 6:04 AM, eerw said:

Very cool way of turning off distractions. I did find this interesting sensation of nothingness, kind of floating. At the peak of the when you have ended an exhale, but haven't started inhaling. It feels ??? I don't know quite how to describe it.

 

Immediate presence is incredibly calm. Maybe because that feeling cannot be compared to any other feeling is why it is difficult to describe.

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I try to live like my dog. There is only now. No past, no future, only now. And now is all that matters because it is all there is. You can learn a lot from a dog.

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benos   

Indeed. In addition to everything you said... Throw after throw, hour after hour, day after day, my dog ran after each throw of the fetching toy with the same amount of enthusiasm every time. Once my girlfriend asked me how Mr. Tucker was doing, and I said "he is in a constant state of meditation." 

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johnbu   

Reading this thread,  reminds me of the serenity that comes bow hunting deer out of a tree stand 25-30' up. No distractions,  paying attention to the direction of the wind,  the sun, the sound of the leaves, the smells.  The small animals around and how they are interacting.  And over all of that, the need to remain still, yet alert.  A 200 pound deer makes less noise than a 2 pound squirrel, but the sounds are distinct so you have to evaluate every rustling leaf.  The continued heightened awareness brings a calm.  In that calm state many of life's problems with relationships, work, etc are seen with true perspective and solutions are easier to find.

 

Also reminded of a conversation with a senior black belt 35 years ago.  He asked what happened on the drive to the dojo.  He wanted to know if i could recall everything, or was I just on "auto-pilot".  Zoned out driving is the same as zoned out walking and zoned out living.  A true karateka is continuously aware of their surroundings.  You can't be ready for defense if you aren't aware an attack is coming. 

Edited by johnbu

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benos   

Specifically for the example in your second paragraph, and especially today when people cannot set still at a traffic light without having to look at their smartphone - it is truly amazing there are not more accidents.

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