Thursday, September 1, 2011


A great deal of attention these days is being paid to "mindfulness".  As far as I am concerned, it is just the idea of being aware of what is on my mind.  That means that when I am thinking about my lawn, some part of my mind is aware that I am obsessing about the weeds again.  Or, what I have on my mind - am I aware of the subject I am deciding to attend to?

Considerable evidence supports the idea that generally, the mind is not capable of attending to more than one target at a time.  However, both minds and computers can move back and forth between targets rapidly, an ability that is almost the same for most purposes as being able to pay actual attention to multiple targets.

When people try single-point meditation, where they try to set aside any thought that arises for maybe a ten minute period, they sometimes find it surprising at how vigorous the mind is at supplying a stream of thoughts that can be taken up and extended.  It is quite common for some people to feel they are not doing meditation right because they can't seem to stop that stream.  Even the ancients, though, way back then, felt comfortable assuming that the ear hears, the eye sees, the heart beats and the mind supplies thoughts.  The practice of setting aside thoughts temporarily is mostly practice in noticing when a thought has arisen in the mind.  That noticing is the thing that is developed.  And, such noticing enables a little distance from the subject as in, Do I really want to spend time worrying about my weeds?  

Having meditated many times, I know that paying undivided attention to a dot or a corner of a picture frame will only last a short while.  Thoughts of last night's movie or the value of wood for picture frames or something will arise, often a bit quietly, slipping in and taking up my mind without my noticing.  BUT, Ha!  A blink or a breath or a slight sound will alert my meditative inspector and the sneaky little subject will be noticed.  Then, as Viktor Frankel wrote back in 1946, even a prisoner in a death camp can decide what he wants to pay attention to.  THEN, I can ask if weeds are really worth attending to.  If so, I can get out the weed killer.  If not, I can move on to whatever I have been trying to get to.

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