Meditation teachers have impressed me in the past with their ability to point out a better place to put one’s attention – to point out what’s happening instead of what the meditator thinks is happening. For instance if someone is mad and the anger is coming up during sitting, the meditator thinks that X, the object of their anger, is the problem – but the teacher points out that X is not there and the anger itself is present. The anger is manifesting as thoughts and sensations, which are real. They are simply being overlooked — because the focus has been on the object of the anger. The meditator is guided to working with what is real, instead of what is not.
I’ve been thinking about what is real and what is not and how to better guide my own attention to be more effective in my practice. These are some of the the things that have come up around this topic.
Meditation can be understood as the practice of stopping and looking deeply at what is going on — so that we can discover that which we were previously overlooking; see the subtle mechanisms in play; gain the ability to drop what is not working and develop what is; eventually get a taste of freedom from the previously unconscious pinball game that is our lives. Ultimately, this allows us to discover what is keeping us bound, and allows us to release it.
So what has meditation made me more aware of? What are some of the things we tend to overlook – and what is it we’re focused on that’s causing us to overlook it?
Overlooking the fact of thinking and focusing awareness on the content of the thoughts is what keeps us bouncing around in the past and the future as opposed to living in the present. Just like the ‘anger’ example, this works with all kinds of thoughts. Sitting in meditation and trying to focus on the breath alone, we begin to “see thoughts” as distractions, which lets us see them as “things” instead of being instantly caught by the content of the thought. The more we can see the thoughts as opposed to the content, the more we are able to let go of them, explore where they come from and where they go, classify them as ‘talk’ and ‘images’, watch them arise and pass. And while we are doing all of this — we are in the present moment! We are also gaining at least a little control with respect to the mind’s activity. We learn that we can feed thoughts, or drop a whole train of thought that isn’t going in a good direction (or one that might be distracting us from our intended focus).
Overlooking awareness itself, we focus only on the senses — and often overlooking them we focus only on pleasure and pain. Meditation allows us to discover not only our thinking mind, but the observer – the witness – awareness itself. We can develop the ability to be aware of awareness; rest in the state of awareness; let phenomena arise and pass in the open space of awareness. This discovery and the practices that are possible make non-attachment much easier. Not only can we begin to go deeper into stillness during formal meditation practice, but we can rest in that “sense of knowing” or “awareness itself” while we’re on the bus or walking down the street — and be very present and see everything just arising and passing, without feeling stuck in the world or impacted by everything that comes along.
Overlooking the miracle of living and life and focusing exclusively on our story. Living only in our story, we become ego-bound. We generate more fear of loss, greed for possessions, and judgements about ourselves and others and how we compare. If we are able to step back, we see the miracle, the mystery, the divine creation that we’re apart of! Gratitude practice is a great way to stop overlooking what we do have in favor of getting the next thing in the future. This works on a more mundane level as appreciation for what is in our lives – but also on a grand level as appreciation for the miracle of existence itself!
Overlooking the dharmakaya and getting caught in the play of phenomena, creating self and other, subject and object. We are overlooking our Buddhanature and living exclusively in the realm of suffering. This is at a deeper level and may be harder to appreciate, but it’s the gold at the end of the rainbow, spiritually. The realization that it isn’t us-against-everything, but rather that we are all one. This is the realization of non-duality. It has been expressed a million ways by a million teachers. You can even find references on Twitter about it:
See the body as unborn & see the mind as uncontrived. Ultimately they are not two & beyond conceptual mind ~Ravigupta
See if you can come up with any examples where we are focussing our attention past what is actually happening, missing the trees for the forest, or otherwise living a dream as opposed to waking up to what is real.