Intention to hold attention - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.09.14

Comments and expansion

This nitpicking comment is about the impossibility to do what Sam says, if one takes him literally. It invites failure.


Sam Harris

And as you begin the session, resolve to give it 100% of your attention

So, this statement is about forming an intention (name the intention to pay attention).


We can analyze the intended intention in this statement in various dimensions: timing, scope and strength.


We can then also form a conclusion about whether it is realistic and feasible for the average meditator. Or, whether is really useful only as a broad encouragement in a metaphoric sense. I will then compare it with a statement by Culadasa about intention.


Analysis of Sam Harris´ instruction:

​Dimension

​Instruction text

​Trigger / timing

As you begin the session (one-off event, no refresh during session)

Scope / granularity / area

Resolve to give it (the entire session)

Strength

100% of your attention (full immersion, no distraction at all)


At least for anyone who hasn´t the name Mingyur Rinpoche, this is a challenging task:


For 10 to 20 minutes (depending on which duration you decided), remember to keep 100% of your attention on an object of a vast scope (the entire session), while Sam Harris with his quasi-hypnotic voice lulls you into dullness.


Culadasa

As so often, while Sam Harris paints with a broad brush, Culadasa goes into detail.

From the word count of the term intention in his book "The Mind Illuminated" in Kindle, it seems that intention has the same importance as attention and awareness (namely, 500 counts which seems to be the maximum occurrences that Kindle will count).


For example, this is the explanation for the scope (locus / area) of attention that has intentionally to be selected:

The basic rule for training the mind in meditation is to always intentionally select the locus of attention. That is, you must intentionally choose the “area” (i.e., breath sensations, bodily sensations, thoughts, or some combination) you want attention restricted to. Every practice for achieving stable attention is based on this principle. With monkey-mind, attention is constantly moving, so you finesse the situation by intentionally expanding this area. You let the mind keep moving, but only within the boundaries that you’ve intentionally set. Instead of trying to hold the monkey still, you give it a larger cage to move in ( Yates (Culadasa) & Immergut, 2017, p 90)

In Sam Harris´ instruction, the scope is the entire session with all the events happening within it.


Culadasa´s following instruction how to avoid drowsiness, namely by regular intention-setting at various points of the out -breath, is much more granular.


For instance, set your intention at the pause before the out-breath to observe the very beginning of the out-breath. At the beginning of the out-breath, set the intention to observe sensations near the middle. And at the middle, set your intention to discern the end of the out-breath. Do the same for the in-breath. This close-up investigation takes practice. However, it energizes the mind and keeps you engaged enough so you don’t as easily slip into drowsiness (Yates (Culadasa) & Immergut, 2017, p 112)

Here the analysis of Culadasa´s instruction:

​Dimension

​Value

​Trigger / timing

At various points of each breath-cycle

Scope / granularity / area

The next phase of the current breath-cycle

Strength

Not specified, but within Culadasa´s system, 100% would be out of the questions

Maybe this is a bit more realistic.


Anyway, who wants to deepen their practice of consciously breathing out, could reference Culadasa´s neurologically informed "The Mind Illuminated".


At the end of the 400 pages, the reader may actually be able to expand the scope of attention in a manner envisaged by Sam Harris, at least approximately.


Resources


Yates (Culadasa), J., & Immergut, M. (2017). The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater MindfulnessNo Title. Hay House Uk. https://www.amazon.de/Mind-Illuminated-Meditation-Integrating-Mindfulness/dp/1781808201




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