Spacious Attention

Article 22 Focus in Space

In the previous set of articles, have been hovering around a cluster of ideas like a butterfly, lightly touching on one before flitting to the next. But they are all very much related being different flowers, if you will, on the same plant.

Some of the elements:

  • heightened moments: how the top tennis players use key moments of challenge to raise their game. Recently I saw an interview with Tom Brady in which he specifically discusses this, explaining how many great games come down to a few key moments and how some players raise their game in such moments and make the plays whereas others falter.
  • Finding wisdom in such heightened, and thus emotional, moments.
  • Intensity: going into the light in any given bardo experience, be it during a shift-phase in daily life, or the Big Kahuna after physical death.
  • Group focus boosts the awareness field.
  • Leaders and followers

So some sort of combination of focus, general awareness and meeting or embracing emotional intensity.

This piece is about group dynamics in the context of focus, but first a little interlude from a part of a nice dream I had last night.

I was sitting on the front porch of a cabin we lived in seemingly in a rural area, a clean but second world village type situation, abundant with trees, flowers, butterflies and birdsong. I was meditating in a seated posture with feet on the ground below the deck. I was very relaxed. A ways away but still in my field of vision a local woman was doing some gardening work; we did not look at each other but each was aware of the other’s presence. As I meditated I realized that my mind should be transparent, it shouldn’t be filled with the project and process of meditating so that if she cared to look up and examine my state, she wouldn’t think: ‘oh, look at him, he’s meditating!’ So I settled in more letting the mind become more and more clear and ordinary. At some point I adjusted my hands to be folded together in my lap in a natural way. At that point I could hear my wife approaching down the gravel path to my left, still out of view and again I reflected that when she came into view and saw me, she too should not be able to tell that I was ‘meditating’ per se, rather that I was just sitting there simply, awake and present.

There are two aspects here of interest, namely the clearing of the mind into a natural, ordinary state, and the wakeful quality similar to having a sense of focus, though focusing on what exactly is always an open question. Some meditation techniques have the practitioner focusing on the breath, others on body sensations, others on a visualization – a deity or abstract visual pattern – and others on a drawing or physical object. The great American philosopher William James recommended that people focus on the tip of a pencil for a minute or so at a time in order to increase their powers of mindfulness, for example. It’s a good technique. I used to like to watch a second hand move through an entire minute without wavering.

But in natural or ordinary style meditation, the object of focus is the mind itself, the mind underneath or before concept, before chatter, before any notion of meditating. In a text I wrote to help get through a period of intense illness, the final meditation part – which is, like in the dream and ordinary meditation without content, known in Buddhist jargon as ‘formless meditation’ – it says:

“The imagined situation dissolves like mist over a lake in the morning sun

Leaving body and surroundings free of any past or future, project or progress

Effort or ease, holding or letting go, sad or happy, sick or well

Not following any internal story lines, clean-hearted, playful, a carefree child of Nature

At one with the birdsong: fresh, simple, relaxed, present, awake, naked.

The shorter text version goes:

“The imagined situation vanishes like mist over a lake in the morning sun,

Leaving body speech and mind at one with the birdsong:

Present, fresh, ordinary, naked, awake. “

We might say that the birdsong is the object. Except it isn’t, rather it is heard clearly without distortion because the meditator is not otherwise preoccupied with discursive internal chatter.

This reminds me of a scene in Lord of the Rings: Gandalf and Frodo have been discussing the history and significance of The Ring when Gandalf notices that the ongoing background sound of sheers clipping this and that has stopped and there is now silence. That silence is like the mind without agenda. (Of course this is because Sam became fascinated with stories of Rings of Power and Elves and Dragons and, in true hobbit fashion, forgot to keep clipping away and so got caught eavesdropping. For that momentary lapse in concentration he ended up being almost burned into a cinder on Mount Doom – but that’s another tale for another time.)

Now here’s a little twist: in a way, we could say that everyone is always ‘meditating’ all the time in the sense that our minds are dwelling on something or other. It might be sex, money, rock and roll, politics, personal status, items in a shop window, juicy gossip shared with a friend or neighbour – whatever. In all cases we have ‘placed our mind on an object.’ So the issue is on what object is the mind placed? If one meditates endlessly on stealing, one will end up a thief. Anything we put our minds on or into in turn shapes who we are, what we do and what happens to us.

Formal Buddhist-style meditation is no different in principle but the object is not sex or money or success or even becoming a good meditator or enlightened; rather the object of meditation is the underlying nature of the experience of living itself, the purpose therefore being to touch into basic ordinary reality. That is what is meant by being present. Being present doesn’t mean that one is screaming to oneself about paying attention, nor is it being glommed onto the pencil tip or the sweeping clock hand second by second. Such things might be good for training purposes, but at some point you have to get real, and getting real means being ordinary, simple, direct, straightforward.

So what does all this have to do with the key moments of heightened awareness and intensity, be they clutch plays in a championship game, or bardo moments of intense brilliance, let alone leaders and followers or ‘group dynamics in the context of focus?’

Stay tuned….

Published by The Baron

Retired non-profit administrator.

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