5 ways to pay attention

Pay atten­tion — to your­self — we do so to be present for what is going on, all with­out attach­ment to the sto­ries we tell ourselves.

pay attention
Cling­ing, and the end of clinging…

The 4 Noble Truths

The Bud­dha’s first lec­ture con­cerned “wak­ing up” from the illu­sion of suf­fer­ing. The 4th “truth” was what is called the 8‑fold path. 

Here’s one of them, as it applies to learn­ing to pay attention.

Sound Awareness

I used to teach clients about pay­ing atten­tion by unpack­ing the the acronym NAIL (Notice, Accept, Inves­ti­gate, and Let Go.) 

And “notic­ing and accept­ing” is what Sound Aware­ness is all about.

Sound Awareness requires a single-minded focus on “just this.”

Pri­or to imple­ment­ing Sound Under­stand­ing and Sound Con­duct, our men­tal lives are non-present and non-respon­si­ble.

We only begin to dis­cov­er this if we pay atten­tion direct­ly to our mind games, despite the “slip­pery wish­es” of the mind. (slip­pery mind)

I’m so togeth­er, so clever, and such a Saint. Now do it my way!

For exam­ple, many of my clients worked on over­com­ing their blam­ing behav­iours. They did this by notic­ing that they were angry or sad, and how this led them—immediately and automatically–to blame the near­est person. 

The first move was to let go of blam­ing lan­guage. They learned to say, “I am anger­ing myself.”

Good first step, but… it’s not so sim­ple. We are hard-wired to point outward. 

So they’d think (or say,) “If only I had mar­ried some­one who was more cen­tered and Zen-like. Then, my tran­quil­i­ty wouldn’t be disturbed.” 

It was the same blame game but stat­ed in an arti­fi­cial­ly more self respon­si­ble way.

# 1: It’s always, always about you

There is no escap­ing this real­i­ty. In the 4 Areas where we can pay atten­tion, (mind, feel­ing, body, and phe­nom­e­na) the work­ings of all are deter­mined by how we choose to see them

It is my respon­si­bil­i­ty to bring bare atten­tion or bare notic­ing to each of the 4. 

Slip­pery mind will get more and more clever, but all it ever says is, “Well, it may just be me mess­ing with myself, but THIS time…” 

Aware­ness requires that we look, with clear eyes, at our per­cep­tion of the 4 areas. 

  • Imma­tu­ri­ty is this: “This is hap­pen­ing (say, to my body) and it is bad, painful, wrong.” 
  • Matu­ri­ty is this: “This is what is hap­pen­ing to my body.” All data, no “this is bad,” or “I’m dis­turb­ing myself over…” 

What’s going on for you is what is going on for you. Watch. Notice.

# 2: You know nothing

(…about any­thing out­side of you)

This is the realm of phe­nom­e­na from the 4 Areas. This is reject­ed strong­ly by our slip­pery mind. We cling to the belief that we know what’s up for oth­ers, and under­stand the work­ings of the world. 

I find this quite odd, as most peo­ple I meet are woe­ful­ly igno­rant of their own inter­nal the­atre, and strug­gle might­i­ly against shift­ing much at all of their view. But boy, do they know what’s up for others! 

Here’s a hint: you know noth­ing about anything! 

Sound Aware­ness teach­es us tp pay atten­tion to what’s going on. I call this bare aware­ness, or aware­ness stripped of judge­ment and inter­pre­ta­tion.

I was asked the fol­low­ing question:

In respect to good and bad, or the fact that it doesn’t exist, that all is neu­tral, it is a chal­lenge. If I do not use judge­ment for things, would there not be chaos? I do not leave a 5 year old to look after them­selves all day because my judge­ment tells me that would not be wise. If there is no good and bad, what about teach­ing our chil­dren values?”

I would ask, “What good does adding an addi­tion­al lay­er do? 

If I observe myself gen­tly, I seen see that I “know” how I wish to deal with any phe­nom­e­non. Adding a lay­er of judge­ment just delays things. 

We do not teach chil­dren val­ues.
Wise peo­ple live their val­ues, and chil­dren notice.

A friend’s son (9 years old or so) had cut a base­ball apart (boy, did that bring back mem­o­ries) and had wrapped the con­sid­er­able inter­nal yarn around his hand. The yarn was attached still to the rub­ber core. He asked his mom for a scissors. 

She imme­di­ate­ly leapt to the assump­tion that his hand was trapped in the yarn, and that he want­ed out. She got right into, “We got­ta get you out of there!” mode. I took out my knife, and opened it. He walked over to me, and sliced the yarn, free­ing the rub­ber ball. The mom was like, “Oh!…”

Want to learn more? Check out my book, Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall

# 3: Be curious

This would be the ele­gant approach to the last sto­ry. When in doubt, (which, real­ly, is all the time) askWhen you want some­thing, ask

Sound Aware­ness is a dia­logue between you and you, and you and the uni­verse. As you begin to drop the “know-it-all” stance, it becomes clear that it’s all pret­ty vague and unclear out there. 

And inside, too. 

I rec­og­nize that every learn­ing in my life has come right after admit­ting I had no clue. My ther­a­pist used to say, “Prac­tice not knowing.”

Curiosity as opposed to stubbornness was the key to opening the door. 

Curios­i­ty is a bit like child­like wonder. 

I loved the look on that kid’s face as he wrapped yarn around his hand and bounced the inside of the base­ball around. This was his very first expe­ri­ence with the guts of a ball, and I twigged back to when I’d done the same thing. I told him about some of my expe­ri­ences, and wished him well with the exploration. 

Curios­i­ty allows me to deeply engage with the phe­nom­e­na I am view­ing. The Bud­dha used the term samad­hi to describe this laser-like focus on what is “right there.” He indict­ed that such atten­tion leads to delight and ease born of detached curiosity.

# 4: detach 

Detach­ment is not the same as not car­ing. Detach­ment is about drop­ping cling­ing. To what, you ask? 

See above! It’s drop­ping our attach­ment to our sto­ries, our judge­ments, our blam­ing, and to our mind games. 

Once I have detached myself from them, and also from attach­ing to a par­tic­u­lar out­come, I can be ful­ly and com­plete­ly present with this moment. 

This is not the same as not car­ing. It’s not walk­ing around in a calm, preter­nat­ur­al fog. It’s paired with “delight,” remem­ber. It’s all about com­plete, vital pres­ence as one enacts and inter­acts with life. 

Sound Aware­ness requires laser-like pres­ence, with­out cling­ing to any­thing. This is dif­fi­cult, as most peo­ple are deeply attached to their pain and dra­ma, and also deeply attached to the idea that the cos­mos should coop­er­ate in a “make me hap­py project.” 

Sil­ly peo­ple want the world and oth­ers to give a shit, 
and are deeply annoyed that it and oth­ers don’t. 

So, detach. Let It Be, to quote a Bea­t­les album. It is as it is, until it isn’t. 

This is also not to say that goals, projects, desires have no place. Remem­ber, the real cause of suf­fer­ing is cling­ing, not desire per se. 

The way this plays out is to do what­ev­er you do with full atten­tion and full involve­ment, while detach­ing from a spe­cif­ic out­come (the cling­ing part.) 

#5: Sound Concentration

The word the Bud­dha used is dhyana, which is the pre­cur­sor to the word Zen. 

And the essence of Zen is shikan­taza, a term coined by Dogen, the founder of the Soto school of Zen. 

The word shikan­taza trans­lates, ““noth­ing but (shikan) pre­cise­ly (ta) sit­ting (za).”

Sound Con­cen­tra­tion is what hap­pens when we are able to sim­ply be present, moment-by-moment, with what is, and what aris­es. It hap­pens as we learn to sit with our­selves and let go of the cling­ing and the games. 

As I’ve said before, the way to strength­en pres­ence is to prac­tice shikan­taza.

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