Distraction!


Recently I came back from a stay at the Atlantic where I love to meditate.


So, when I showed this snapshot, I was asked : "But how can you meditate with this???"


That was an understandable question, given the propensities of the male visual system to be highly distractable by the female form, and, once grabbed ("grab" is Daniel P Brown's expressionless for what mental events do to awareness) , to wander off into fantasies. While this is desirable inner focus, it is the wrong object.


However, the "brand" of meditation I do (Mahamudra/Dzogchen) is (kind of) integrative: whatever appears in awareness, can immediately be recognised as what it is (as just an appearance in the wide space of awareness, along with sounds, knee pain etc). The mind will not attach to it (the visions have no "grasp"), and one enters the realm of freedom. Hopefully! It does require practice, though.


Stickiness of the mind and the Dalai Lama

Described in a more scientific language, this phenomenon where such visions as above don´t grasp the mind is also called "reduced stickiness of the mind", and it is associated with changes of the way the amygdala operates. Thus, longterm meditators have a significantly and measurably reduced time for which their minds stay occupied with whatever passes through hit.


The stuff of our lives becomes less “sticky” as we shift into a less attached relationship toward all that. At the higher reaches of practice, mind training lessens the activity of our “self.” “Me” and “mine” lose their self-hypnotic power; our concerns become less burdensome. Though the bill still must be paid, the lighter our “selfing,” the less we anguish about that bill and the freer we feel. We still find a way to pay it, but without the extra load of emotional baggage. (Daniel Goleman & Davidson, 2018, p 155).

To take a really advanced example for non-stickiness, here the Dalai Lama as described by Daniel Goleman, the author of "Emotional Intelligence":

Richie once saw tears begin to stream down the Dalai Lama’s face as he heard about a tragic situation in Tibet—the latest self-immolation among Tibetans protesting the Communist Chinese occupation of their land. And then, a few moments later, the Dalai Lama noticed someone in the room doing something funny and he began laughing. There was no disrespect for the tragedy that brought him to tears, but rather, a buoyant and seamless transition from one emotional note to the other. Paul Ekman, a world expert on emotions and their expression, says this remarkable affective flexibility in the Dalai Lama struck him as exceptional from their very first meeting. The Dalai Lama reflects in his own demeanor the emotions he feels from one person, and then immediately drops that feeling as the next moment brings him another emotional reality.18 The Dalai Lama’s emotional life seems to include a remarkably dynamic range of strong and colorful emotions, from intense sadness to powerful joy. His rapid, seamless transitions from one to another are particularly unique—this swift shifting betokens a lack of stickiness. Stickiness seems to reflect the dynamics of the emotional circuitry of the brain, including the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens. These regions very likely underlie what traditional texts see as the root causes of suffering—attachment and aversion—where the mind becomes fixated on wanting something that seems rewarding or on getting rid of something unpleasant. The stickiness spectrum runs from being utterly stuck, unable to free ourselves from distressing emotions or addictive wants, to the Dalai Lama’s instant freedom from any given affect. One trait that emerges from living without getting stuck seems to be an ongoing positivity, even joy. When the Dalai Lama once was asked what had been the happiest point in his life, he answered, “I think right now.” (Daniel Goleman & Davidson, 2018, p 162).

How to practice

There are many of instructions and illustrations on how to meditate with distracting events going on during meditation:


A typical chapter heading is, for example "Taking afflictive emotions as the path". For example, they guide how to first evoke a specific difficult emotion intentionally, then to use it to meditate, e.g. how to use anger as the path.


As an instruction snippet fitting the title of this post, take the following instruction as quoted by Daniel P Brown.

Practice... when standing - standing in a crowd of evil beings, or even standing in a crowd of women ( Brown, Daniel P. (1981), p 214)

But, if you are a man, heed the lesson: before daring to meditate in the presence of women, you should practice in a crowd of evil beings, preferably in a graveyard during a stormy night. Only this way will you be hardened enough to meditate in the presence of women without being stuck.


For a funny illustration of distractability through erotic fantasies during long sole retreats, see here.


Resources


Brown, Daniel P. (1981). Mahamudra Meditation-Stages and Contemporary Cognitive Psychology (Dissertation). http://abhidharma.ru/A/Tantra/Content/Raznoe/0028.pdf

This dissertation is a free download. It is a massive, highly technical volume that nevertheless gives an unparalleled insight into the education of a yogi.It draws on the knowledge of cognitive science as of the late 1970s, so it is not the newest in this regard. As a compensation, Daniel P Brown gives some insight into the experiments with trichoscopy. to which he still referred in his retreats in 2021.The University of Chicago library entry:

https://catalog.lib.uchicago.edu/vufind/Record/470630


Gebel, Till. (2022m, October 1). Merge formal practice with life. Even with anger and women! - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.09.26. Till Gebel. Retrieved 21 October 2022, from https://www.till-gebel.com/post/sam-harris-daily-meditation-2022-09-26-mix-and-merge-formal-practice-with-life

Goleman, Daniel, & Davidson, R. J. (2018, September 4). Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body (Reprint). Avery. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0399184392





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