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15 July 2010 @ 11:13 am
Cutting Loose  
Yesterday I felt 'awake' in the sense of being aware for much of the day, or more accurately, I guess, at many points in the day.

Since forever, I have struggled with awareness. For most of my life, I've had a completely awful memory. People will often remember places they've been with me, things I've said, things we've done, people, events, objects we've seen together, and my frequent response is, oh really?, I don't remember that at all. At certain moments, I've felt so bugged about my inadequate memory that I've wondered about some malformation or damage to the hippocampus, from stress or some other accident of nature. Since it is also true that I have a poor sense of direction (and 'poor' seems to be an inadequate word here -- it is sometimes astonishing to me how much trouble I have navigatin
g) it seems pretty clear that the little seahorse who inhabits my brain probably suffers from an irregularity or two.  

So much for that. How to work with the head I've been given seems to be the best question. Hence, my long-term interest in meditation, which led me to a weekend retreat July 9 -11 with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in St. Paul. Rinpoche is a Buddhist meditation master who has written two books in the last four years, The Joy of Living and Joyful Wisdom. A friend invited me to hear him talk at a local meditation center at the end of May, and I found his style and approach to meditation interesting enough to sign up for the retreat I attended this past weekend. Among other things, I clearly recognized two of the meditative states he described in my own experience in meditation through the years. One of these states is called choice-free meditation and the other, open awareness.

Choice-free meditation
refers simply to attention that touches on different primary objects during focused awareness without concern for the fact that the focus of attention is moving. So, for example, if you begin a session of meditation by focusing on the breath, but then the attention is drawn to the sound of a loud plane passing overhead in the distance, and then to the rumble in your stomach, and then again to an image of the conversation you had yesterday with a coworker (the look in her eye, the blouse she was wearing), your are experiencing choice-free meditation.

Attitude is the key issue here. In meditation, it has been easy for me to begin arguing with myself over the shifts in focus because I tend to have too tight a grip on life. I would judge my state of mind as distracted or unfocused for my inability to stay with the breath. If I could manage to follow the currents of my attention, I would persist in believing that I had to escort my attention back to the breath, and that necessity would weigh on me like an authority figure wagging its finger. Rinpoche's point as I understand it is that the objects of attention matter little; any type, any number are fine, as long as the mind remains aware and does not wander off and get lost in unconscious free associating. In a sense, attention is recognized as the crucial support for the primary object here. The thing one must keep remembering and returning to is not a given object, like the breath, but rather the recognition that one is paying attention. 

Open awareness meditation is very close to choice-free meditation. The difference is that recognition of paying attention shifts from being a touchstone that one returns to again and again to centerpiece of attention itself. Open awareness describes a sustained awareness of awareness itself.

Personally, I am capable of open awareness usually only after 20 minutes or so of meditation. My mind finally drops into a very still and spacious place, and I become aware of just resting there. Normally, I cannot sustain it, and that has bothered me (slightly) in the past. I've seen it as some sort of failure not to be able to rest in that place for longer periods. But if the mind shifts back into choice-free meditation, it's completely fine, expected, and useful to follow that current as long as recognition of awareness is present.

Yesterday, I noticed an all-day choice-free meditation in progress as I moved through my daily business and recognized that state of mind as one that I am capable of cultivating. An antidote, perhaps, for the inadequacies of my hippocampus?
Current Location: Here
Current Mood: oriented
smws on July 16th, 2010 03:24 pm (UTC)
the little seahorse who inhabits my brain
I love that phrase, well put.

I'm glad meditation is working for you. I've never understood the practice, but since you (and several other friends I trust) put a lot of stock in it, I think there is probably something to it. Good that it focused your memory and mind.