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MIDL 19/52: Flickering of Attention

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In MIDL Mindfulness Training 19/52 you change from observing when your attention moves towards experiences that arise within the mind, to becoming aware of the pure movement of attention itself. The ability to do this is dependent on skills developed in previous trainings as it requires a giving up of control of habitual movements within the mind. Through grounding awareness within the sensate quality of your body and not identifying with the habitual functions of the mind it is possible to observe the rapid flickering of your attention as experiences arise within the field of the six senses. Submit Your Question

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Still Struggling

Your Question: Still struggling with large attention shifts on some days. But the practice is helping me identify what is happening sooner. What should I do?

Stephen Procter: Attention shifts are not a problem.

Your mind is doing exactly what it is meant to do, observe struggle as just another defensive mechanism of your mind, it also is not you. Allow your mind to wander, continue placing effort towards observing the transition points, the points of change between attention and inattention.


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Trust Experience

Your Question: Is there a relationship between the movement of my attention and the movement of my eyes? I feel (not always) my eyes (behind my eyelids) moves when my attention moves.

Stephen Procter: You just answered your question through your own experience.

Trust your own experience, it is all you can trust.


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What is The Purpose?

Your Question: I think I’m obtaining a basic understanding of why we do this; i.e. we are trying to get to an understanding of where our thoughts start, but then after that is what I’m trying to grasp. Once we can see the flickers of our thought starting, how does this help us, especially since we are here to welcome all though and note it.

Stephen Procter: All MIDL Mindfulness Trainings are designed to help us clearly experience what the Buddha referred to as the Three Characteristics of Experience:

1. Impermanence: That all experience is impermanent, uncontrollable and unreliabile.

2. Suffering: That suffering arises when we hang onto or identify with that which is impermanent, uncontrollable and unreliable.

3. Not-self:That that which is impermanent, uncontrollable and unreliable cannot be seen as or identified in terms of: "This is mine, I am this, this is myself" without suffering. That wisdom says that all experience should be viewed in terms of "this is not mind, I am not this, this is not myself" if suffering is to be brought to an end.

In summary, observing all experience in terms of the Three Characteristics leads to a natural disenchantment within the mind and non-attachment / letting go occurs. Our identification with the processes of the mind weakens and freedom from obsession and identification with them gradually develops.


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Constantly Aware

Your Question: What is the ideal goal of awareness? Do you want to be aware, all day long every minute? And why is my mind so easily lost in thoughts rather than easy in be aware?

Stephen Procter: You asked: "What is the ideal goal of awareness?"

Reply: Awareness has different levels of clarity, the purpose of the practice is to clarify awareness in order to observe and understand our relationship towards reality. This is done by continuously remembering to remember the awareness of an experience.

You asked: "Do you want to be aware, all day long every minute."

Reply: We are already continuously aware throughout the day, awareness happens naturally without our help. But we do not continuously remember that we are aware throughout the day, this is the purpose of mindfulness. Yes we want to develop continuous mindfulness throughout the day.

You asked: "Why is my mind so easily lost in thoughts rather than easily being aware?"

Reply: When you are lost within thoughts you are still aware, otherwise when you came out of that thought you would not know what it is that you were thinking about. When mindfulness collapses you literally forget awareness, your mind then fills this gap of 'not knowing' with habitual thinking. It is the weakness of your mindfulness that allows your mind to fall into habit.


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Lost in Thoughts

Your Question: I find this difficult and am always lost in thoughts, is this part of meditation?

Stephen Procter: Yes, getting lost within thoughts is what the mind does, it is perfectly ok and natural. Your only task in MIDL is to be aware of being lost within the thought; it is the knowing that you have been lost within the thought that strengthens mindfulness which allows you to notice faster. Once mindfulness is strong you will be able to be aware of the flickering of your attention - before it becomes a thought. Cultivation of this takes patience as well as the desire to investigate and understand.


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Never Stop Thinking

Your Question: I don't think I ever stop thinking. The quality of it just changes. My mind quiets but I remain aware of my being. At some point I then become aware of having been thinking about something specific. Is that what you are talking about? Sometimes I become aware of having wandered, non-linear thoughts, and more fleeting images. Is that the beginning of dream sleep/drifting thoughts?

Stephen Procter: Reply: Thinking is habitual, it can take a while to slow down such a big ship. Not everyone can create a 'gap' in the thought stream straight away, that is why I suggest training in the other 18 MIDL Mindfulness Trainings before this, daily for one week each. In this way Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration will be strong enough to create the 'gap'.

You said: "At some point I become aware of having been thinking".

Reply: This points towards how your mindfulness meditation practice will develop. Start paying attention to the transitions between being aware of your meditation object and forgetting it - becoming "lost within thought". These 'gaps' occur when you have literally "forgotten you were meditating" - your mindfulness has become too weak.

When mindfulness collapses, whatever your habitual way of being is will take its place. In this case it is as you say: "thinking about something specific". Notice how you literally 'disappear' during this type of thought. Training in observing these 'gaps' of 'not knowing' is what mindfulness meditation is all about. With training your ability to notice these transitions in attention will increase; mindfulness and concentration will develop.

If on the other hand there are floating / drifting thoughts in the background and you can remain fully aware that they are there, then just observe them, allow them to be. In the same way that you may watch a child playing with a toy; not interfering but instead just making sure that the child stays safe.


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Can't Observe Mind?

Your Question: When I focus on bodily sensations, my mind starts to wander, but I only see it when it already happened, not while it is happening. When I focus on the mind directly to observe it's flickering, it stops doing it. It's rather funny, as if my mind doesn't want to be seen directly. So it seems that my mind is only there when I'm focusing on something else, not on the mind itself. Is it possible to see the mind directly and not through it's movements?

Stephen Procter: You said: "When I focus on bodily sensations, my mind starts to wander, but I only see it when it already happened, not while it is happening."

My reply: Your attention habitually moves without you noticing it because of a collapse in your mindfulness. Literally you forgot you were meditating, forgot your awareness of your current experience.


You said: "When I focus on the mind directly to observe it's flickering, it stops doing it. It's rather funny, as if my mind doesn't want to be seen directly."

My reply: When you are mindful of awareness of an experience rather then the experience itself then mindfulness is more continuous and forgetting awareness of your current experience arises less.


You said: "So it seems that my mind is only there when I'm focusing on something else, not on the mind itself."

My reply: Mind only ceases with the ceasing of awareness itself, if there is awareness then there is also mind.


You said: "Is it possible to see the mind directly and not through it's movements?"

My reply: Yes.
Mind is not a thing but a series of conditional events coming and going.

*Awareness is mind.
*Awareness of what is happening coming and going is mind.
*Concentration is mind.
*Mindfulness is mind.
*Investigation is mind.

All these can be observed.

*Attention is mind.
*Attention moving is mind.
*Perception and concepts are mind.
*Likes and dislikes are mind.
*Attraction and aversion are mind.
*Thinking and fantasies are mind.

All these can also be observed.

*All states of mind are mind.
*All emotions arising within our body are reflections of mind.

All these can also be observed clearly.

In MIDL we observe the movements of attention because everything can be observed from here and the impersonal nature of mind becomes very clear through observing the impermanent and uncontrollable nature of these movements.


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