Saturday, February 22, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Even though sometimes it feels like nothing useful at all is going on, the last thirty years of near daily meditation has had a profound effect on not just my capacity for attention, but also my capacity for love. I was thinking about this the last time I pulled off a beautifully puffed up Yorkshire pudding. For years I couldn’t get it to rise into anything more than a soggy mound. So I kept beating it longer and harder, making more bubbles thinking that getting it all full of air would solve the problem. Then someone on a cooking show said how important it was to give the bubbles time to settle out before putting it in the oven so that the heat would create bubbles. I’d been making it worse. There are some things that can’t be done until things are allowed to settle. Like if the surface of the water is agitated there’s no adjustment you can make to settle it that won’t make it worse. And once everything is settled, clear reflection is possible, unclouded by the previous time. Response is not distorted by disturbances in the past. And once the thoughts have settled during meditation there’s just awareness. Those that study the brainwaves of meditators have observed a synchronization of brainwaves in both hemispheres. There are pages and pages of sites with tapes and videos geared to this aspect of meditation. As one of them said, having the sounds, like chanting or drumming, helps you stay with the meditation until the end. Wikipedia uses the term “hemispheric entrainment” and writes,
“A person with similar activity in both hemispheres is alleged to be happier, more optimistic, more emotionally stable and less prone to mental illness. Increased levels of synchronization are found naturally in people who meditate regularly and people who are very content with their lives in general.”
The meditation may actually stimulate that contentment. I’ve watched my own transformation from largely anxious and worried to someone who welcomes experience as it flows around me. Day-to-day conscious awareness is less plagued by my own thoughts, ideas about what isn’t or what should be, what I didn’t do or might have done. As Krishnamurti emphasized in his talks, suffering comes from our own thoughts. Even when physical pain is involved, it’s the thoughts that turn pain into suffering.
Even when it seems like the mind is all over the place, just watching and not getting caught in the threads gives them time to settle down. By building the skill of letting thoughts settle, it’s far easier to let go of troubling mental patterns. Not getting attention, they become more infrequent. When they do come they’re more transparent, obvious transitory phenomenon that don’t change the real issues at hand. When the barriers crumble, the love can flow because attention is an expression of love and when you meditate you have more attention to give. There is nothing more pleasurable in life than beaming your love out to it. How could you not be content?
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Recently I came across a blog called “Brainwaves for Leaders” devoted to making neuroscience useful to people in business, developing their “Neurocapability”. It’s wonderful to see so many sites that apply brain science in practical ways. The site emphasizes the need for focused attention as a way to balance the increasing distractions of attention characteristic of modern life. The goal is to build “Attentional Intelligence.”
"Attentional Intelligence is an intelligence which when highly developed allows you to effortlessly but 'mindfully' notice where your attention is at any moment and to intentionally choose where you want it to be." Linda Ray (2012)
The idea of paying attention to what your paying attention to is classic meditation and has been shown to improve overall intelligence. Sustained attention goes into more aspects of a problem or idea and the site has interesting business oriented ways to cultivate it.
It’s helpful to devise new words in order to better talk about kinds of attention. I’ve borrowed two from brain wave terminology and distinguish between alpha and beta attention. Like the brain waves alpha attention is slower, calmer, gets inside the immediate, giving the present duration. It’s focused attention, fully on the subject at hand. What we bring into focus is where we are engaged. Attention is a sign of our involvement. Brain chemistry then encourages continued involvement because this is where we extend our capacities.
Beta attention is the everyday monkey-mind attention. Its scope is wider, keeping track of more things but in a more surface way, skimming, scanning, switching around. In a study of college students at Ohio State they found that multitasking was emotionally satisfying but not as productive as focused attention, but it was the emotional satisfaction that made checking devices so addictive. Deeper alpha attention takes more in, digests it more fully and is required for any challenge. Which is why challenge is such a good way to train it. Learning any skill provides challenge and extends capability. This is why studying illusionism can be so satisfying. It makes you pay attention to far more about the details and variation within kinds of objects. It demands full attention so is an outstanding arena for building and strengthening those parts of the brain.
Beauty commands attention. This makes it powerful. People who try to define beauty don’t understand how ephemeral the quality can be, the momentary effect of the light on a flower that transcends definition. The picture you take is only a reminder, can’t hold the moment itself. Beauty encourages alpha attention, to notice and hold in awareness, take it in more deeply. Alpha attention is the deep attention to particulars, where Blake’s “grain of sand” opens worlds. Reflections, qualities and the movement of light and shadows are as important to the feel of the moment as objects. Reflecting on beauty we become aligned with the guidance provided by our attunement to harmonic relations.