October 10, 2017
What does the mind stick to? What does it pass over? What does it notice easily without getting stuck?
The Burmese meditation master, Sayadaw U Tejaniya, reminds his yogis, "Meditation is not about the object. It's about the mind. If you never get the attention off the object and onto the mind, your practice just won't go very far."
The point of those three questions is not the objects. It's not what the mind gets glued to, misses, or notices lightly and easily. The point is to notice the mind itself — to be aware of awareness. Is it sticky, dull, quietly receptive, or something else?
Awareness of awareness is difficult in the beginning. So at first, practice may emphasize awareness of a single object like the breath or a mantra or uplifted qualities. That gives the mind a home base it can return to as it learns to settle down.
But as it steadies, it will naturally begin to notice the qualities of awareness itself. Is it clear? Foggy? Tense? Jumpy? Uplifted? Heavy? Sticky? Restless? …
We can't force awareness of awareness. Force makes the mind more sticky or jumpy. It's an evolutionary thing. If our ancient ancestors saw a bear coming over the hill toward them, those whose attention became obsessed with the beast were more likely to live another day. Those who ignored the creature were more likely to be eaten. Their DNA didn't get passed along.
So when the mind gets sticky or jumpy, there's no need to blame yourself or the mind. It's just doing what it was designed to do. It's just doing its job. To criticize the mind for doing its job, signals an emergency and makes the mind more sticky, jumpy or both.
If an emergency arises in meditation — perhaps we can't remember turning off the stove — it's best to get up and check. But if what arises can wait, we just recognize where the attention went or how it feels, release the distraction, relax any stickiness, tension, or dullness, smile gently, and return to our home practice. For me this home base is radiating uplifted qualities.
The Buddha called this "wise effort" (samma vayama). It does take effort to remember to be aware of awareness. But force or strain doesn't help. The most important thing is not to make the stickiness or jumpiness into a problem. The mind is just doing what it was bred to do. Instead we relate to it with clarity, kindness, ease, and simplicity.
The three questions are one way to begin to do this. As you go through your day, what's the quality of your mind? As you hear about the floods, fires, or political kabuki theater, what's that quality of your mind?
Right now, is your awareness sticky? Dull? Receptive? Content? Balanced?
Copyright 2017 by Doug Kraft
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Patipada, January 18, 2021
This is truly a complex process. Pema Chodron used the term "getting hooked" when addressing "shenpa" as we get caught up in story lines which we have strong attachment to - thoughts and ideas we identify with believing it to be "me and mine" as we create the story based on past memories which may or may not be an accurate recollection of our past experiences. In my practice, recollection of pleasant and unpleasant memories seem to be easily accessible but neutral ones seem to be more difficult to "see" as the hook is not attached to strong emotions.