|Forest SanghaNewsletter||July 2002|
Deep Attention: Connection to Letting-Go
...Lust is slightly blameworthy, but it is slow to change.
Malice is highly blameworthy, but it is quick to change.
Delusion is highly blameworthy, and it is slow to change...
For someone who does not attend deeply, delusion arises;
or if it has already arisen, tends to strengthen and spread.
Anguttara Nikaya, Threes, 68.
On-going cultivation is a process, involving our own personal attitudes asthey occur in a living context. In life, we all accumulate habits: and ourbehaviour and lifestyles develop according to our attitudes andsensitivities. These habits are kamma. Kamma determines both how we areaffected and how we respond -- the crucial aspect of how we are and how welive, so it's important to come to terms with, purify and be awakened to thisprocess.
We may, for example, be quite sensitive to having our own privatespace and react quite strongly to what we sense as intrusion: even when the'intruder' is operating from a helpful motivation. The 'intruder' on theother hand, might be attuned to needing to be useful, or sense ourindependence as lonely. Or maybe we come across as remote and stand-offish.All kinds of emotional dissonances occur between people whose sensitivitiesare set at different levels of sociability, or otherwise read situations invery different ways. The 'setting' of awareness -- how we're affected and howwe respond -- has been brought around through the approval or disapproval ofothers, or through our own ease or stress, pleasure or pain. Basically wehave learned to interpret and steer through feeling the feed-back from whatwe do and how we respond. This is vipaka, old kamma: pleasure and pain formthe initial take on things. How we subsequently attend and how we act orreact are based on that initial impression And their aim is to arrive atfeeling good. So impression -- how something strikes us -- attention and aimare all bound up with mental feeling. Action -- even thinking -- is then theresult. So one basis of how we act and lay down new kamma is feeling, as ittriggers a conditioned emotional process.
The other basis for emotion is perception (sañña) -- how an event orphenomenon is 'marked.' Like feeling, this varies: a topic that is clear andstraightforward to one person is precarious, even threatening, to another;one person may feel compelled to respond to a situation that another barelyperceives or considers to be of minor significance. Furthermore, anyresultant activity -- willing, dutiful, or marked with aversion -- gets basedon assumptions: such as 'it's up to me to do this', or 'it's someone else'sbusiness.' All these are the markings of perception. Perception is alsobound up with personal kamma: no two people's take on things, or response isexactly the same; yet we interact and attempt to live harmoniously withothers. Further misunderstanding occurs because, no matter how glaring anddeliberately motivated our emotional settings may seem to others, we are notfully aware of them ourselves. They have been set by feeling, rather thandeliberate design, and so just seem 'normal.'
Fuller liberation requires entering the territory of feeling and perceptionand freeing up the boundaries that they set.
|Meditation helps us to get a profile of the parameters that our awarenessoperates through. We recognise what happens when we receive an impression:such as feeling overwhelmed, lost, confident, or responsible -- thesefamiliar kammic patterns give rise to the sense of a self 'in here.' Based onthat, our attention reacts in terms of its program -- anything from evadingor fudging the issue, to lingering over and feeding on the impression, toletting it go, to blaming ourself or others; or feeling on top of it all.Dependent on this, we then more deliberately respond, in terms of thoughts,or react with further perceptions and emotions. Our awareness is affected byall this and again resonates in terms of its kammic parameters. So ameditation period can be pretty active! And yet rather than moving out of ourhabits, we can wind ourselves up into a contracted and pressurised state.Faced with this, we may try to calm down and curtail the emotionalturbulence, but that doesn't bring around a release from the parameters ofour sensitivies and perceptions Fuller liberation requires entering theterritory of feeling and perception and freeing up the boundaries that theyset.|
This takes care and training because the boundaries that are set onour awareness were useful, even necessary, in their time -- our immediatereactions were set to protect us from pain and loss -- they can't bedismantled without understanding and carefully allaying that buried pain. Sothis is not an easy process. Furthermore, feeling is something that we seemto have no control over -- it just happens. Perception is also an immediate'take' on what's going on. These are bound up with our affect/responsesystem, so how can it be overhauled?
The contemplative answer is not in adjusting the feeling itself, butbeing able to hold the feeling with mindfulness. The second foundation ofmindfulness is mindfulness of feeling. In this, the Buddha's instructions inbrief are: to feel the feeling just as a feeling. Curtail the reaction thatcomes from it; avoid conceptual proliferation and analysis of the perceptionthat accompanies it: feel the feeling just as a feeling. Give it room to moveand change. Then, if we accomplish this, we may realise that the perceptionthat is affecting us is from wrong attunement: actually there isn't a threathere, someone is merely inquiring from concern, not attempting to take overand control us. Or, what is presented as exciting and desirable is actuallyvoid of lasting benefit. However, it's counter-productive to add moredisapproval or approval to our impulses -- that just adds more stuff to themix; no, it's more instructive to feel the affect and contemplate theresponse. With mindfulness of feeling, fear and desire take us to the objectof our meditation. But rather than be guided by them, we learn to feel thefeeling that they come from.
|Trying to get a sense of where to start with all this requires an overview.Our affect and response patterns go pretty deep. What are the priorities?What are the most fundamental aims? What are the results of our contemplativeactivities? In Buddhist practice the goal is clear: more fundamental thaneven understanding or becoming a 'better' person, is the aim to end anysuffering and stress. This will come about not by trying to change the way weare, but by being mindful of ourselves as a process that changes dependent onhow we attend. And in setting up mindfulness, the Buddha considered a factorcalled 'deep attention' (yoniso manasikara) to be an invaluable asset. |
Attending deeply is a process that uses thought, but in a catalyticalway. It doesn't take long to realise that one can't trust discursivethinking, but directed thought and evaluation does train the mind to get tothe point rather than wander off. So we may deliberately reflect on a topicof personal concern, the events of the day, or of our aspirations or ourpractice. However, the deepening comes through witnessing the emotions thathold these perceptions in place. Then, when a pattern is discerned in thatholding, to sense how awareness is affected right there. So we may bethinking about a relative, the overall 'hold' of the perception is one ofregret, and in awareness there is a contracting which we sense as loss, andan unsettled agitation. It feels unpleasant, so there's a tension in the mindto get rid of or fix that feeling. But if we feel the feeling just as afeeling, we don't have to contend with it. We don't have to explain it, or gointo the story that accompanies it. It is what it is, it has as much right tobe here as anything else. With this, the tension subsides, and there is somestillness. The relief of that stillness feels good. The good feeling releasesour awareness from its old settings (of guilt, worry, or whatever) and thatmakes us feel buoyant and confident. From that place we may decide to visitthe relative or write a meaningful letter, and that feels right and genuine.A response has occurred that is fresh and uncontrived.
So we begin with the material of deliberate thought, in which thedeliberation is neutral or inquiring. The thought is then cleaned of itskammic intention: it becomes a sense object like a sound or a taste; initself it has no motivation except to sustain attention on the mood, to get aclear overview. To get the overview, we don't attempt to fix, release, calm,or suppress. We go to the very hold of attention, the mood beneath thethought and let the attention generate an aware space around that. The holdwill always be contracted in some way: uptight, or flat and numb, or excited.It will generally demand action: even if it is the seductive plea to dull outthese thoughts in activity or sleep. However, the primary layer of theemotional core of a problem is just what holding itself feels like. It isthis very 'stuckness' that must first of all be accommodated.
Deep attention can go wrong if it is not systematic -- we jump in, orpush forward into emotional currents with the idea of 'getting to the root ofall this' -- only to find ourselves overwhelmed. The systematic training isto start with just being able to hold the problem mindfully, and then attendto the first, peripheral, level of the tangle. Rather like untying a knot--we first soften the periphery. Let directed thought and evaluation provide areference -- 'the mood feels tight, hard' and then inquire into that mood, asto what it needs or where it is. Bodily reference provides the firm ground.What does it feel like in the body? And where? In the chest, head or belly?What do these places need?
|These suggestions induce an open benevolence, rather than a 'sort this out'mentality. Something in us has probably had enough of 'being sorted out' andhas learnt to shut out those kinds of ploys. So rather than any furtherdrive, can we attend to stuckness with a heart of kindness and compassion?Can we come from a place in ourselves that feels good and stable and attendfrom there? Can we attend without wanting anything to be different, butallowing full knowing to attune to our welfare in the present moment? Thenthe simple theme of the practice is to do nothing but attend. |
When mindfulness rests on a level beneath our normal patterns ofmental behaviour, what can arise is a realisation of an awareness that isreceptive but not reactive. Based upon its stability, we might call itpresence. There is a spaciousness about this kind of 'knowing,' an emotionalopenness and clarity that impart a sense of trust; moods such as inexplicablejoy or compassion may arise, in the midst of circumstances that a moment agowere stultifying. In this shift, we notice that attention is now holding in avery different way: there may be a settling-back (viveka) and dispassion(viraga) that allows us discernment -- and perhaps some humour. We recognisethat circumstances are changeable and unstable -- and that truth refers alsoto our own emotional bases. And we may realise that attention can let go byitself if we attend deeply and without agendas. In this way, mindfulness andfull knowing realises that an emotional behaviour pattern is not 'mine.' Wehave connected to the space that knows letting go.
So with deep attention and mindfulness we penetrate the emotionalpatterns; then we can attend to what actually is affected. This is the domainof the third foundation of mindfulness, mindfulness of affective awareness,with its un-socialised surges and relaxations: 'he knows the awarenessaffected by lust as awareness affected by lust; and awareness unaffected bylust as awareness unaffected by lust...contracted awareness as contractedawareness...exalted awareness as exalted awareness ...concentrated awarenessas concentrated awareness...liberated awareness as liberated awareness.' Ifthis can be fully penetrated without adding to it, closing it down or movingaway, awareness can be released from its parameters. What are they? Whereasaffect and response are set by feeling and perception, awareness is set by aview: that of self-interest. What's in this experience for me? Can I havethis? Do I move away from this or reach out for it? If these parameters canbe relaxed, the disturbances in awareness cease.
Deep attention gives us an entry into this level also. It offers anangle, or presents a view, that we can then take into meditation. It gives usa chance to come out of self-view. This view is the peripheral or'background' assumption that holds the content of greed, aversion -- orhappiness and peace. Very often this view manifests voices such as 'the innercritic,' 'the escapist dreamer,' or 'the idealistic seeker.' Of course intheir way, the endless self-blaming and demanding that we be different orlife be different from how things are have their points. And so does the'good-time' voice that says we should just relax and not get so intense. Butit's a matter of taking the compulsive 'I am,' 'I should have,' 'you ought tobe,' out of our attention. Who is this? Who's telling who how things shouldbe? Then we contemplate the very 'shaping' and 'texture' of awareness as:contracted... expanded... agitated... still. 'It's like this.' Thisrealisation lets go of awareness -- it's not 'me.' Then an intuitive wisdomcan arise to respond to things specifically as they are.
So we train to contemplate systematically, layer under layer -- therestless worry about the uncertainty over how to deal with the aversion --first going to the outer layer which contains it all, which may not have beenrecognised. Maybe the whole thing is held in aversion, or an unwillingness todeal with the topic; the tightness of trying to close it all down. But ratherthan attempt to open it all up, create an attentive space around the attemptto close down... get a sense for that. Maybe there's some fear: is it OK tobe with that, just for a while? Remember just to empathise; don't do. Let anyshift happen, and any suggestions come after the shift into intuitive space.
. . . o o 0 o o . . .
Establish a supportive bodily presence: a sense of uprightness, an axis thatcentres around the spine. Connect to the ground beneath and the space aboveand around the body. Acknowledge sitting within a space, taking all the timeand space that you need, and letting the body feel that permission. Open thebody sense through feeling the breathing: first in the abdomen, allowing thebreath to descend like a stone through the soft tissues... feel the flexingof the breath mirrored by the effortless release and firming of the abdomenin respiration.
Attend to the upper body, consciously dropping the shoulders andopening the connecting tissues between the upper arms and the main trunk...feel the breathing flexing the chest, giving all the space that is needed.
Open the head by relaxing the jaw and settling the tongue in thefloor of the mouth. As if you were removing a scarf, or unbuttoning a collar,let the neck feel free and the throat open. Feel the breathing move throughthe throat from the throat notch, up through the back of the mouth and outthrough the nose and mouth. Give the quality of attention that allows allthat to be evenly felt... Then check where the back of the skull meets theneck, to sense if any attitudes are tightening there. Even good attitudes,like determination... let the purity of attention and sincerity of heartexpress that while keeping the body soft. Repeat this in terms of checkingthe eyes, the forehead and the temples. Trust the purity, attune to thatrather than will power. Enrich the purity with an attention that is givingrather than holding.
As you establish this body reference, settle into it, checking inwith the specific points from time to time. If you feel unsettled -- snaggingflurries or sags of energy or mood -- draw attention down your back to theground, allowing the front of the body to flex freely with the breathing.Refer to the 'descending breath' -- down through the abdomen -- if you feelbustling or uptight. Attune to the 'rising breath' -- up through the chestand throat -- if you feel buried or flat.
Using these references, gradually step out of your world offunctions, events and relationships, and into the space of embodiedawareness... all the time in the world to be just this...
Meet an aspect of your daily world. Allow an element of all that toarise into awareness... and contemplate the effect in terms of embodiedawareness. The 'so much to do'; the 'I really need this'; the 'nobody listensto me...' sense how the emotion moves energy in bodily terms. Re-connectingto, or sustaining, the open embodied awareness sense the pull of thatemotionally triggered awareness... which area of the body is effected andwhat the pull represents as an emotional or psychological response. Theremay be a familarity to the sense of that response... tightness ortrembling... maybe fear, irritation, or despair. Let the breathing and thegiving flex through that. Acknowledge all that arises... let it flow. Feelthe feeling as a feeling only, holding it in the body with a givingattention.
Carefully repeat this with that aspect of your world until you feelthat something has shifted in your response, or that it has given you a keyto deeper understanding. Compassion towards the response may arise, somethingthat relieves you from aggravating, defending or burying it.
Spend such time as you wish allowing different aspects of your worldto arise; layering that with times spent out in embodied awareness in itself.There may seem to be no end to your world, but that 'no end' is part of thesense of the world to practise with. Allow yourself to park the many topicsand issues after a reasonable time, taking leave with the intention to returnto these at another time.
Return through the body: the central core, the tissues wrapped aroundthat, the skin around that, the space around all that. Slowly open your eyes,attuning to the space, and the sense of the place that you're sitting in.