I have many years of experience with meditation. I went through a fairly typical path, I think. First, sitting on a soft pillow in my student room trying to follow my breathing, reading books and striving for intellectual understanding of enlightenment. Then joining groups, participating in retreats, and having the opportunity to talk to masters. Then realising that there is nothing to logically grasp in the change so spending more time just sitting on my pillow. Then witnessing my practice becoming more and more erratic and overwhelmed by the speed of life.
Years passed and one day I learned about Open Focus. I must say it was a big moment for me. I realised that most meditation styles are simply various approaches to attention training. For example, in Vipassana, practitioners begin by narrowly focusing on breathing and gradually widen the field of attention until they become aware of whatever is arising. In Dzogchen meditation they go immediately into a wide-angle, all-inclusive mode of attending. I found a few scientific papers which confirm that the four attention styles theory is a very useful tool to categorise and understand meditation styles (link, link).
I had a strong impulse to start, and then to continue Open Focus training. I knew it was not going fade away so easily. It was because in Open Focus I can balance very useful skills with aimless practice. I can combine a clear understanding with deep, thoughtless meditation. In Open Focus I know where I am heading and I am still able to access states when knowing has no place at all. I will write more about it very soon.
Today, one very practical hint for meditators as an example of how the four attention theory helps to improve quality of practice.
There is a lot about ‘watching thoughts like passing clouds’ in teachings about meditation. I must admit it confused me for a long time. How was I supposed to watch my thoughts? When I was trying to stay alert waiting for them to come I could see only what was in front of my eyes. When my thoughts were coming I was too immersed with them to really see what was happening. It felt more like living inside my head – travelling in time and space, not being aware of my body and the present moment.
I was struggling with this dilemma for a long time. During every meditation session I had many moments of ‘waking up’ and realising that I had been daydreaming again. The best that I could achieve was staying alert for 3-5 minutes and then suddenly realising that it had happened again.
The change came when I learned about the diffused attention style. Diffusing my attention was making me very quiet and it felt right from the beginning. The daydreaming moments were still coming but the time of alertness between them was different. I was alert and calm but not watchful and observing. Just present.
I have been experimenting with the diffused attention style ever since. I was making myself aware of different parts of my body together with sounds, smells and most importantly with space. It was – and still is – a very exciting time. I had a lot of very deep moments. I remember when I dissolved my pain for the first time and when I dissolved my first frustration. I willed myself asleep after waking up too early on a Sunday morning. I was surprised to find that I could go into the cold sea without a struggle because I could choose not to feel cold. I also remember having six different ideas for a Christmas present for my wife after 15 minutes of Open Focus exercise (I was completely lost before I started).
And then one day it happened. I noticed my thoughts. I was waking up from another daydream during a session and my attention immediately diffused. I was aware of my body, space in front of me and… my thought. I was aware of it for a moment and it slowly faded away. Then everything went very quiet and after some time another thought came and went. Just like that without any effort or emotional attachment.
A lot of time has passed since that moment. I learned how to stay aware of space and a daydream (when it happens) at the same time. I also found that including daydreams into my diffused attention had significantly improved the quality of my training. I would suggest it to all meditators. It liberates from a struggle with unwanted daydreaming because daydreams still happen but they are welcomed now. It also teaches how to be present on an everyday basis (out of practice). Since I became used to it, my thoughts became less ‘sticky’. I am not ‘lost in my head’ so easily. I can be more here and now living in the present moment.
Continue to this post.