Effects of meditation on attention
"The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will… An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.
- William James, The principles of Psychology
MEDITATION, Bare Attention
The simplest instructions for meditations for are given by Tilopia in the Song of Muhamudra:
“Do nought with the body but relax
Shut firm the moth and silent remain
Empty your mind and think of nought
Like a hollow bamboo
Rest at ease your body
Giving not nor taking
Put your mind at rest
The great way is a mind that clings to nought
Thus practicing, in time you will reach Buddhahood.”
The southern Buddhists (Therevadin) practice a form of meditation called Satipatthana Vipassana (Application of Mindfulness). It starts with the simple exercise of Bare Attention. All that you do is register thoughts, states, etc. in the present. This process slows down the transition from the receptive to the active phase of the cognitive process. You don’t think about your thoughts. You merely note them. This produces “peaceful penetration”. You transcend conceptual thought.
a) Find a quiet and peaceful place where you will not be disturbed.
b) Get into a comfortable seat. It should be a position you can remain in for at least thirty minutes without moving or discomfort. It is desirable that the head, neck and chest be in a straight line.
c) At first let your mind wander and just watch it. Just note how your mind works. Don’t think about the thoughts. Just note them. Do this for about thirty minutes a day for a week.
d) Then find a muscle in your abdomen, just below your rib cage, which moves when you breath such that it (the muscle) rises and falls. Attend to it. Every time the muscle rises think “Rising”, and every time it falls think “Falling” … rising … falling … rising … falling. Let all other thoughts drift by and keep your attention focused on this muscle.
Don’t loose heart. At first the mind will wonder frequently. Each time it does, follow it immediately upon becoming conscious of its wandering. Note where it wandered to, and then immediately return to rising … falling … rising … falling …
Don’t try to suppress your thoughts (for that is just another thought). Rather, note the intruding thought, give it a label, and return to the task at hand. After about a month you will note a great calm and sense of peace from this exercise.
e) After you get in the habit of merely noting each stimuli in the Here and Now without thinking about it, then add additional steps designed to further free you from illusion. Specifically you add Clear Comprehension. This advanced practice involves describing the noted thought or state in terms of its purpose, its suitability, the way in which it relates to spiritual practice, and finally in terms of its total impersonality. These descriptions (which are described in detail in a number of books on Buddhist meditation) are ritualistic in nature and help you to see the impermanence of thought, the way in which it perpetuates suffering, and the fact that it does not in any way imply the presence on an ego or “I” who thinks it.
Great gains in meditative practice may be made without these advanced stages. The simple technique of bare attention is very powerful. With the advanced techniques available in the Buddhists texts you develop in time a totally dispassionate view of the thoughts which fill your consciousness.
— Ram Dass, Be Here Now
The term meditation is used is such a variety of ways that it may mean anything from daydreaming or musing to deliberating about a topic, to a specific discipline of working with the mind that can be so exact that every act of body and thought is prescribed. The way in which the term meditation is used in yoga is in the more formal and disciplined sense. As such it is distinguished from reflection or contemplation. It includes two processes:making the mind concentrated or one-pointed, and bringing to total cessation the turning of the mind.
“The human mind is like that monkey, incessantly active by its own nature, then it becomes drunk with the wine of desire, thus increasing its turbulence. After desire takes possession comes the sting of the scorpion of jealousy at the success of others, and last of all the demon of pride enters the mind, making it think itself of all importance.”
As long as the mind is caught in the senses and you are caught in your mind, you remain in the illusion … since in the last analysis, your thoughts create your universe. Only when your mind has become completely calm will you reach Buddhahood or enlightenment.
— Ram Dass, Be Here Now