Mindfulness and Attention
By Swami Rama
To take the inner voyage requires preparation. To become fully prepared for this inner voyage requires attaining purity of mind. Attaining this purity of mind involves two things: 1) awareness of one’s thoughts and 2) discrimination between thoughts.
To achieve purity of mind, one should cultivate constant awareness by being mindful all the time. One should remain always aware of one’s thoughts. To purify the buddhi, or the faculty of discrimination, is the most important task. This means one should learn to discriminate between pure and impure thoughts, and between helpful and disturb¬ing thoughts.
When one is able to do these two things (learning to remain aware of one’s thoughts and learning to discriminate between thoughts), the result is that he develops the sense of determination and strengthens his will.
A student knows that impure and disturbing thoughts lead to greater bondage and create obstacles. When the faculty of discrimination is sharpened the student is then able to strengthen those thoughts which are pure and helpful. Thus, he does not allow the seeds of impure or disturbing thoughts to grow within. In this way, one can cultivate with all sincerity and perseverance, purity in thought, action, and speech. This purity of mind as called “saucha,” and is the first of the [niyamas]
The sayings of the great sages do inspire and support the student in the pursuit of his practices. But studying one’s own thoughts, emotions, deeds, and actions is the real study. Mere study of the scriptures is the sort of information that is really not knowledge, but only a part of knowing. We intellectually know many things, yet our ignorance is not dispelled. By self-study, or studying within and without, we experience directly that which dispels the darkness of avidya, or ignorance. Only when one has carefully learned the study of his own internal states will the true knowledge of the Self begin to dawn. This deeper study of one’s own internal states is called “svadhyaya,” and is the fourth of the “niyamas.”
You must pay careful attention. Sometimes teachers do not go very far in their instruction because they see that you are not really paying attention. If you want to be successful in your life, learn to train your attention. Attention is the key point that leads you to concentration, then to meditation, and then to samadhi. But, basically, this process begins with attention. To attend to one thing at a time and not allow any intruding thoughts is a skill one should learn. Along with the development of attention, a second quality is the ability to make mistakes without condemning yourself. Determine that no matter what happens, no matter how many times you stumble, it does not matter. If you have not crawled, you cannot walk; if you have not stumbled, you cannot stand.
Don’t impose discipline on yourself—“from tomorrow I will not lie, from tomor¬row I will not take meat”—don’t create such problems for yourself. Be gentle with yourself, because gentleness alone is strength. Discipline means, “I will use all of my instruments according to my capacity.” It means, “I should learn to pay attention without any dissipation, distraction, and distortion. Anything I do, I will do with full attention.”
There are four distinct functions of mind: manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and chitta. These four functions of mind and their functioning should be coordinated. To establish coordination among the various modifications of mind, one has to learn to watch the mind’s functioning through actions and speech, and at the same time, observe the thinking process within. Ignorance is the mother of all diseases, discomforts, pains, and miseries. A purified, quiet, and serene mind is positive and healthy. The process of meditation helps the mind to remain a useful and constructive instrument.
The first real step of development in life is to know yourself. But how do you know yourself? You are a physical being, but knowing this level is not enough for you to understand yourself fully. You are also a breathing being, a sensing being, and a thinking being. All this takes place because you are that center of consciousness within, from where consciousness flows on various degrees and grades. This path, this journey, is a journey within. You are trying to explore who you are, so that you can function well in your life, understand your habit patterns, and learn to live happily in the world. To learn that, you need to study your own self on three levels: action, speech, and mind. Any discipline you learn is meant to help you improve on these three dimensions—action, speech, and mind.
If I move my hand and make certain gestures as I speak, what prompts me to do that? Most of our gestures are actually unconscious. The body has a particular language of its own, which we call “body language.” The body creates such gestures and movements because all its actions are governed and controlled by the thoughts. Any movement means that some thought that exists in the mind is being expressed. This is an important point: your actions are controlled by, and are the result of, your thoughts, both conscious and unconscious. You should understand your mind and its modifications on deeper levels by observing and analyzing your body language and behavior, and then seek to understand why your body moves or reacts in a particular way. Your gestures are totally influenced by your thought processes.
It is very easy to find out something about a person by watching his actions—how he moves, how he talks, how he looks at others, how he smiles, how he cries, how he eats, how he sits, and how he makes certain gestures. One can discover a great deal about inner life by studying body language.
What is knowledge and what is ignorance? Although we talk much about darkness, it does not actually exist; there is no darkness. Darkness means lack of light, but is this lack of light real? Go to the sun and ask if it has ever seen the darkness. The sun will say that there is no such thing. There is also no such thing as ignorance, for ignorance means lack of knowledge, lack of awareness. But if you are constantly aware, you are not ignorant. Constantly being aware of the Reality means knowledge of the Reality—and if you are constantly aware of the Reality you will never be afraid. To be aware of the Reality first comes discipline—learning to be fully attentive so that you perceive things properly.
In order to make progress in any aspect of life, it is essential to develop your willpower and your personal strength. If you sincerely want to develop personal strength and willpower, you should first learn to keep yourself open and be an observer of yourself until you observe that your willpower has become dynamic. Instead of making dramatic resolutions, simply make yourself open to observing yourself and decide to experiment in observing yourself.
The root of the word “meditation” is similar to the root word for “medical” or “medicate,” and the root of all these words implies “attending to” or “paying attention to” something. In meditation, you pay attention to dimensions of yourself that are seldom observed or known—that is, your own deepest, inner levels. Meditation involves a type of “inner attention” that is quiet, concentrated, and at the same time, relaxed.
Most people understand only one part of meditation. In meditation, you sit down quietly and repeat your mantra. During that period of meditation your mind remains one-pointed, but after that, your mind goes back to its same previous grooves. This is not the full process of meditation; the full process of meditation is a whole life process. “Meditation” means “to attend.” It means attention to the whole of life. It should not be a strenuous act; it should not be forced. Your whole life can be one of meditation. From morning until evening you can meditate, either consciously or unconsciously, and if you do that meditation well, it will bring many benefits.
Just as profound knowledge of what to do is essential, so having a one-pointed mind is equally essential. The modern student tends to know intellectually but does not make sincere effort to develop one-pointedness of mind. Thus his mind remains scattered and all his actions result in disappointment. He does not understand that it is his scattered mind that is creating barriers for him. He thinks the barriers are outside. The key point of practice as well as of success lies in one-pointedness of mind. When the conscious mind has been calmed we learn to integrate all the parts of the mind and to bring them to a single point of concentration. This is known as making the mind one-pointed.
Attention is the first step on the ladder to develop one-pointedness of mind. One must pay wholehearted attention to all of the things he does from morning until evening. The aspirant should also understand why he is acting in a particular way. Actions should not be performed as a reaction without understanding why one does them. The mind is prone to be reactionary if not trained, and an untrained mind creates disorder, disease, and confusion. If one does something with full attention, he will increase his awareness and ability to perform his duty. If one forms the habit of attending fully to whatever he is doing, the mind will become trained, and eventually concentration will become effortless.
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of Swami Rama of the Himalayas