ardacigin

Meditation 101: Stable Attention + Peripheral Awareness = Success

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There are 2 fundamentally different ways of knowing one's sensory experience. 

1- Attention

2- Awareness

All meditation instructions implicitly or explicitly tell you to harmonize your sensory experience to either inside and/or outside using attention and awareness in various degrees. This includes vipassana, do nothing, self inquiry, yoga, mantra and koan practices.

Stable attention is a very important sub-set of attentional skillset. It is the ability to direct and sustain the focus of attention, and control the scope of attention. Without this skill firmly established as a foundation, one's journey towards discovering what is true about themselves and reality will be frustrating and tiring.

Our ordinary consciousness favors moving attention rather than stable attention. This is the fundamental reason why meditation is intrinsically challenging to every beginner meditator. Our default operating model of sensory experience relies on our ability to scan the environment for survival purposes. Monkey mind and distractions exist because of this very reason.

Without developing stable attention, one's ability to transcend these distractions will be significantly decreased. You want to get to a place where intentionally directed and sustained attention results in cessation of moving attention. Eventually, you want this to happen automatically and effortlessly.

We develop stable attention to have really strong peripheral awareness. 

Peripheral awareness is the mode of knowing once stable attention is firmly established. Its mode of operation can be introspective and/or extrospective. 

Introspective awareness is one's awareness of inner thoughts, mind states, bodily sensations, emotions, memories and self-referential symbols. Self-inquiry is more effective once you develop this aspect of peripheral awareness. 

Extrospective awareness is one's awareness of external visuals, sounds, and physical sensations. Mindfulness in daily life can be more easily sustained once you develop this aspect of peripheral awareness.

As a skilled meditator, your major objective is to get to a place where you can infuse introspective and extrospective awareness with stable attention effortlessly. 

While doing so, you must  keep in mind to develop three related skills as a part of your training:

1- Equanimity: The skill of non-reactivity to pain and pleasure. Apply this attitude to your practice.

2- Sensory Clarity: The is the penetrating quality of awareness. The sharper and deeper the peripheral awareness gets, the more you are likely to have an awakening experience.

3- Compassion: This is your emotional ability to shatter dualistic notions and perceive the 'other' as 'yourself'. As you get more intimate with pain in long meditation sessions, the more you'll develop compassion for human beings as a whole. You can supplement your practice with 'loving kindness' techniques.

This is it.

The fundamentals of meditation might appear simple but it takes years of dedicated and diligent work to get results. 

By practicing with these principles in mind, one's spiritual practice will stop being luck-based but merely time-based. The more you practice deliberately, the deeper your understanding and comprehension of truth will become. 

Much love,

Arda Cigin

 

 

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Great post. The only thing id like to add is that the duality between introspective and extrospective awareness is the mind superimposing onto direct experience. The “inner” and “outer” world are actually one, not separate, and it’s important to recognize the nature of this distinction fundamentally being of the mind, like all distinctions (I think). Literally your mind and emotions is in the same location as a tree, it’s trippy once the insight sinks in haha.

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Consilience said:

Great post. The only thing id like to add is that the duality between introspective and extrospective awareness is the mind superimposing onto direct experience. The “inner” and “outer” world are actually one, not separate, and it’s important to recognize the nature of this distinction fundamentally being of the mind, like all distinctions (I think). Literally your mind and emotions is in the same location as a tree, it’s trippy once the insight sinks in haha.

Exactly. That is correct but the subjective experience from a meditator's perspective will be as if there is inner and outer awareness. Until that distinction goes away in your experience, you must continue to meditate with these instructions. Otherwise, it will only be a partially true insight in the form of a subtle memory.

You'll know when the sense of self goes away. But even then there will still be some remnant of inside and outside. Stream entry is still the first stage of awakening. Transcending inner and outer FULLY and PERMANENTLY will take many decades.

Knowing the theory is good but don't put the cart before the horse. In that mindset, all distinction, meditation instruction, techniques are unnecessary and pointless on the path of spirituality. That mindset is like 'just sit and bask in silence' sort of technique where there doesn't appear to be explicit instructions but the zen master still expects you to figure out the technique yourself and have certain experiences.

There is always a technique even in 'bask in silence' or 'do nothing'. You still manipulate introspective and extrospective awareness according to the desired outcome regardless of whether that is awakening or samadhi. You manipulate introspective and extrospective awareness until they fuse into one and become indistinguishable. That is where you want to go. So you are right. 

But remember that effortlessness tends to come smoothly after we make a lot of effort. That is the paradox of insight-oriented samadhi practice. 

There is a time for making distinctions and eliminating distinctions. There is also a time for putting a lot of effort and easing up on effort. Knowing what to do when is the true mark of wisdom.

For this, you can check out Leo's insightful video on 'Sameness and Difference'. 

Edited by ardacigin

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@ardacigin Focusing my attention on an object for longer periods of time has always been my problem. I have had the privilige to have the most boring job on earth basically. I work as a receptionist, the only reason they made the position is because they had a problem with someone unauthorized came in to the building and stole some computers. So I just basically watch a door 8 hours a day. I get interrupted by chit-chat or guests every once in awhile. I have had a job like that for over 2 years now. I have built a great habit of always returning to the present. Like throughout the day. The problem is I cannot keep my attention stable there for longer periods of time. I can get distracted for some seconds only, and then return to the present. But keeping it stable is damn hard for me. So I really relate to what you write about what a struggle it can be. It gets frustrating and tiresome.

I bought Culadasa's book. Have yet to read it. I am a Kriya Yoga practitioner mainly, and my intention is not to integrate Culadasa's whole system. But is it worth a read just to pick up knowledge about concentration in particular? It really is time to build that for me now. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks

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1 hour ago, Esoteric said:

@ardacigin Focusing my attention on an object for longer periods of time has always been my problem. I have had the privilige to have the most boring job on earth basically. I work as a receptionist, the only reason they made the position is because they had a problem with someone unauthorized came in to the building and stole some computers. So I just basically watch a door 8 hours a day. I get interrupted by chit-chat or guests every once in awhile. I have had a job like that for over 2 years now. I have built a great habit of always returning to the present. Like throughout the day. The problem is I cannot keep my attention stable there for longer periods of time. I can get distracted for some seconds only, and then return to the present. But keeping it stable is damn hard for me. So I really relate to what you write about what a struggle it can be. It gets frustrating and tiresome.

I bought Culadasa's book. Have yet to read it. I am a Kriya Yoga practitioner mainly, and my intention is not to integrate Culadasa's whole system. But is it worth a read just to pick up knowledge about concentration in particular? It really is time to build that for me now. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks

First of all, consider yourself lucky. Your job puts you in a great position to practice mindfulness. I have a business myself so it makes everything slightly more complicated. It takes a lot of strategy and skill to maintain mindfulness in creative endeavors. Life's purpose has its price. Leo doesn't seem to emphasize this. Look on the bright side of everything.

Now as to the stability of attention, this is no joke. I want you to consider that people who meditate for over 10+ years struggle with this simply because they don't put enough emphasis on sustained attention. These people casually do self enquiry, noting and do nothing sort of practices but if they are REALLY honest with themselves, their attention constantly moves around in meditation and peripheral awareness takes a significant hit because of it. 

And without clear awareness, awakening is a pipe dream for many people. That is why someone who meditates and does kriya yoga for 20+ years can still struggle to watch their breath for more than 30 mins without distractions. The skill you need to accomplish such a feat is stable attention.

You pick 1 meditation object. Rest your attention there until it becomes effortless. Meanwhile, you expand the awareness and develop the 3 related skills I've discussed in this post.

Culadasa teaches the breath as a meditation object. And it is VERY effective for MANY people. There is a reason why breath practice is not only taught in Kriya yoga but also taught as a common entry point to meditation worldwide. Even before koan work, zen tradition tends to give simplified breath practices for beginners to create some momentum of concentration.

Take stability of attention very seriously. You can DEEPLY master this skill in 3-5 years if you follow Culadasa's book. Considering that people still struggle with stable attention after 10-20 years, this is a HUGE time saver. This is what I'd call deliberate practice.

 Actually, you'd also develop the other important skills by doing the techniques right and go all the way up to Stage 7-10 described in his book. Just remember that stable attention is only a part of this puzzle. Only concentration practices will lead to a dead end. You need to add other practices after you get skilled in stable attention. 

Dry insight practitioners like Peter Ralston may not emphasize concentration but these people actually have VERY high levels of stable attention. All enlightened individuals can concentrate very well.

Read Culadasa's book in its entirety. You can apply his techniques in your job. I can personally do it in similar circumstances where my CPU is not required for the task at hand. 

This is a fundamental skill you need to meditate properly. Start developing stable attention and then you'll see the difference yourself. It is like a whole new world opens up. 

 

 

 

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5 minutes ago, ardacigin said:

First of all, consider yourself lucky. Your job puts you in a great position to practice mindfulness. I have a business myself so it makes everything slightly more complicated. It takes a lot of strategy and skill to maintain mindfulness in creative endeavors. Life's purpose has its price. Leo doesn't seem to emphasize this. Look on the bright side of everything.

Now as to the stability of attention, this is no joke. I want you to consider that people who meditate for over 10+ years struggle with this simply because they don't put enough emphasis on sustained attention. These people casually do self enquiry, noting and do nothing sort of practices but if they are REALLY honest with themselves, their attention constantly moves around in meditation and peripheral awareness takes a significant hit because of it. 

And without clear awareness, awakening is a pipe dream for many people. That is why someone who meditates and does kriya yoga for 20+ years can still struggle to watch their breath for more than 30 mins without distractions. The skill you need to accomplish such a feat is stable attention.

You pick 1 meditation object. Rest your attention there until it becomes effortless. Meanwhile, you expand the awareness and develop the 3 related skills I've discussed in this post.

Culadasa teaches the breath as a meditation object. And it is VERY effective for MANY people. There is a reason why breath practice is not only taught in Kriya yoga but also taught as a common entry point to meditation worldwide. Even before koan work, zen tradition tends to give simplified breath practices for beginners to create some momentum of concentration.

Take stability of attention very seriously. You can DEEPLY master this skill in 3-5 years if you follow Culadasa's book. Considering that people still struggle with stable attention after 10-20 years, this is a HUGE time saver. This is what I'd call deliberate practice.

 Actually, you'd also develop the other important skills by doing the techniques right and go all the way up to Stage 7-10 described in his book. Just remember that stable attention is only a part of this puzzle. Only concentration practices will lead to a dead end. You need to add other practices after you get skilled in stable attention. 

Dry insight practitioners like Peter Ralston may not emphasize concentration but these people actually have VERY high levels of stable attention. All enlightened individuals can concentrate very well.

Read Culadasa's book in its entirety. You can apply his techniques in your job. I can personally do it in similar circumstances where my CPU is not required for the task at hand. 

This is a fundamental skill you need to meditate properly. Start developing stable attention and then you'll see the difference yourself. It is like a whole new world opens up. 

 

 

 

+1-Fuckin-00000000

so on the money and I love the point you made about Ralston too. 

Concentration + quiet mind (as a result of emotional purification) + open mind I think are probably the 3 bedrock skills and capacities we need to have in spirituality and really personal development. 

If you want to meditate on chakras, go into DEEP Samadhi, succeed at the highest levels in yoga, take contemplation through the roof you HAVE TO attain, as @ardacigin is putting it, stable attention. 

Om Swami even says the same thing. It is the most arduous and painful part of meditation but it is the foundation. Its also the most rewarding. 

I VERY much agree what ardacigin is saying about Ralston too. You have to understand, Ralston was one of the best martial artists in the world. You have to be HYPER aware of every single thing and be totally zoned in in martial arts. That guy has incredible focus.

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Posted (edited)

Here is a really good video about how to meditate explained by Culadasa himself. I also added Shinzen Young's teachings a little with my style in this post but essentially he talks about the same things in this video.

 

Edited by ardacigin

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@ardacigin Thank you very much for a great answer. Also, if it wasn't clear, I am EXTREMELY grateful for my boring job. I was not ironic when I said it was a privilege. I have applied techniques and can read books on that job, and my progress has been very good. Whenever I see someone complain about a boring cubicle job I get sad at the wasted potential.

I am 3 years in on my path so I will definitely make stable attention a top priority. I WILL master this in the coming years.

Gonna start reading his book tonight probably. Thanks again :)

 

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Posted (edited)

28 minutes ago, Esoteric said:

@ardacigin Thank you very much for a great answer. Also, if it wasn't clear, I am EXTREMELY grateful for my boring job. I was not ironic when I said it was a privilege. I have applied techniques and can read books on that job, and my progress has been very good. Whenever I see someone complain about a boring cubicle job I get sad at the wasted potential.

I am 3 years in on my path so I will definitely make stable attention a top priority. I WILL master this in the coming years.

Gonna start reading his book tonight probably. Thanks again :)

 

Just to give you my own personal experiences (for further motivation):

I remember the first time I've delved in deep into stable attention on the tip of the nose for a few hours straight with Culadasa's instructions. This wasn't in a formal session. Just casual but consistent stability of attention in daily life. There were constant problems with dullness and distractions but overall it was fairly stable with sufficient awareness. 

I've almost spent the entire day with stable and bright attention to the breath as I'm going through simple life activities. I felt like:

'Holy fuck! Everything feels different. It took a lot of effort but it seems like the breath attention stays there. It's been hours and it is still fairly stable. And it is bright. Not dull and shaky. Let me just be vigilant with potential dullness and distractions.'

And of course, I got cocky and lost the momentum a few hours later. Then it got challenging again to go back to stable attention. I've struggled with it a few days afterward as well.

But this was my first DEEP dive into stable attention. Looking back on it, my awareness was very weak and I was actually in subtle dullness thinking that mindfulness of the breath was bright. Also, there were subtle distractions even in this peak state.

But the fact that I was able to maintain stable attention for hours was actually impressive considering that I was only meditating seriously for about 2 years with Culadasa's methods. To do that now, either I need to lock into effortlessness or REALLY apply myself to maintain mindfulness in daily life. I can do it now with more powerful mindfulness but back then, that was a really challenging thing to do.

After I've tasted the potential, I have gone deeper and deeper. Now I'm really happy I did that. It was challenging and took a lot of effort but now my baseline concentration is elevated and even when my concentration wavers, I can quickly get it back to a high level and maintain it effortlessly.

And the good news is that awareness-based insight practices (described after stage 7 in Culadasa's book) are easier and VERY enjoyable to do. These techniques are similar to self-inquiry and noting practices. 

Just keep in mind, pre-stage 10, the concentration will not always be MAXED out all the time That is not a requirement for awakening but it is crucial for deep mindfulness integration in daily life. So it is a long term smart investment.

That is basically stage 10 mastery in Culadasa's book. It is fairly challenging and that sort of mastery might require 5-10 years depending on how skilled you are at maintaining effortlessly stable attention in HIGLY demanding tasks like working in a business or speaking to people. 

That is a significant challenge for me as a solid stage 7 practitioner. I've done it a few times sparingly but as the task requires more thinking, the more challenging it gets to maintain stable attention with clear awareness. 

Anyways, hope this is inspirational :) 

Edited by ardacigin

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18 minutes ago, ardacigin said:

Anyways, hope this is inspirational :) 

It is! :)

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If Im meditating 1 hour per day doing self inquiry right now, would you recommend stopping the self inquiry and investing that time into concentration practice? 

Another question I had, more metaphysical, what exactly is attention? Is it awareness? And like... what is the mechanism of attention? Who or what is creating this attention around a particular object? It almost feels like concentration is a manifestation of ego.

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@ardacigin I'm finally getting in stage 4 of TMI's model, i'm wondering how to make progress on awareness now

Before i would do so by using attention to check-in, which would increase a bit the awareness by telling the mind that the thing i just put my attention is important/valuable for me, so by repetition it'll increase the awareness on that thing 

But now that's not what we want to do anymore on stage 4 and above if I understood corectly, and it's quite a difficult/vague area (increasing awareness), even with the book's instructions

So do you have any tips or explanation in addition of what's in the book in that regard of increasing awareness ?

Thanks, as usual really inspiring and useful posts of yours

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12 hours ago, Consilience said:

If Im meditating 1 hour per day doing self inquiry right now, would you recommend stopping the self inquiry and investing that time into concentration practice? 

Another question I had, more metaphysical, what exactly is attention? Is it awareness? And like... what is the mechanism of attention? Who or what is creating this attention around a particular object? It almost feels like concentration is a manifestation of ego.

If you've never had insight-like dramatic experiences with self inquiry yet, then I'd recommend developing stable attention first. Use that 1 hour to do this practice and add extra 5-10 mins for self enquiry. You don't have to do it a lot but use that samadhi state to your advantage. 

Concentration is detailed oriented and it contracts so it is more egoic. That is correct. Awareness is the expansive side of consciousness. It is more wholesome, context-sensitive and big picture-oriented.

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Posted (edited)

4 hours ago, Jordan94 said:

@ardacigin I'm finally getting in stage 4 of TMI's model, i'm wondering how to make progress on awareness now

Before i would do so by using attention to check-in, which would increase a bit the awareness by telling the mind that the thing i just put my attention is important/valuable for me, so by repetition it'll increase the awareness on that thing 

But now that's not what we want to do anymore on stage 4 and above if I understood corectly, and it's quite a difficult/vague area (increasing awareness), even with the book's instructions

So do you have any tips or explanation in addition of what's in the book in that regard of increasing awareness ?

Thanks, as usual really inspiring and useful posts of yours

I remember this. It's been years since I've done that 'checking in' method .I don't like that technique and it is a temporary stage method. Kind of like 'labeling' is a transition technique towards 'silent noting'. Its main purpose is to strengthen our introspective awareness for dullness and distractions. 

The main problem is that attention alternates to check in with the mind which means you lose the breath in that period of time. And once you come back, there is a 'waiting' period where the concentration tries to go back to its former glory. 

It is better to do this 'check-in' with awareness and while maintaining breath attention. In fact, you'll eventually get to a point where distractions and dullness can't arise because there is constant introspective awareness checking in for any threats towards potential distractions.

I remember labeling and noting practices in Stage 3. They are not only solid techniques for advanced practice but they SERIOUSLY develop awareness and sensory clarity. But again, stable attention must be TOP tier to really get traction with these techniques. I'd peg these at post stage 7.

But hey! Since Culadasa instructs noting practices to people at around Stage 3-4, so give it a go. Do you remember my post on Shinzen Young's 'Gone' technique? That is how I've really developed some awareness in stage 4, 5 and 6. So maybe try working with Shinzen and Daniel Ingram a little bit. Culadasa's instructions on noting is not the clearest and easiest to apply.

But make sure to ALWAYS anchor the attention with the breath as Culadasa instructs. Then you'll see how effective noting can get. Also, dullness and distractions are very important. Make sure to meditate closed eyes for now and really try to develop that introspective awareness while maintaining clear, bright and continuous attention to the breath. 

At this point, I remember not caring about stable attention to develop awareness and I had some mixed results. It is better to start awareness development AFTER the breath is stable and is relatively effortless (not fully). So stage 5-6 is better.

For stage 3-4, focus more on stable attention until dullness kicks in. That is the indication to expand the awareness. The good news is that you'll more easily sway away distractions due to emphasis on slightly more exclusive attention to the breath. Try to find a balance like this. 

First get to stable attention, increase the conscious power of mindfulness and then slowly expand the awareness.

Edited by ardacigin

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@ardacigin Thanks

Yea for the check-in technique I already thought it won't be good anymore so i'm mostly dropping it now

For noting gone technique, I've discovered Shinzen Young's gone technique just a few days ago and did it just a little bit, I can feel how my extrospective awareness gets way better quite fast when i'm doing it

 

But yea mostly I think you're totally right about still not giving that much importance on awareness at this stage and still really focusing more on stable and more clear and precise attention, I thought at stage 4 it was time were we actually had to master a bit more awareness, but seems like it's still going to be mostly on the later stages

So yea i'll actually just keep focusing way more on attention for now and only a little bit on awareness, thanks

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