Creating a more stable base for attention

One reason we need to create periods of rest is to counteract some of the effects of modern society on the brain, and nurture habits of stability and patience.

Nicholas Carr is the author of the book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. In it he outlines some of the ways that modern technologies are not only affecting our ability to pay attention but are also changing our brains. These technologies tend to fragment our attention, speeding up our need to know and plan, thus reducing our capacity to just rest in ourselves and our own space. This can increase the sense that our  day to day is running from here to there, with no time for ourselves, just a succession of  things to get done.

In an interview with CNN he said, “I became aware of changes in my own thinking a couple of years ago….… I came to realize [that] I was losing my ability to pay deep attention to one thing over a long period of time. When I’d sit down to read a book, for instance, I was only able to sustain my concentration for a page or two. My mind would begin to crave stimulation and distraction — it wanted to click on links, jump from page to page, check email, do some Googling….The habits of mind the net encouraged had become my dominant habits of mind.

It is no surprise that when we have an activity that demands patience and perseverence, we find it difficult to concentrate, missing the inner quiet needed for sustained activities. We become what we practice: If we are continually practicing distraction and small, bite-sized bursts of information, the brain can get used to distraction. If we practice resting and calm, the brain can become more calm.  As Carr continues: Other people – and I’m one of them –  believe that while it’s important to be able to skim and scan and multitask, our deepest and most valuable thinking requires a calm and attentive mind. If you exist in a perpetual state of distractedness, you’ll never tap into the deepest sources of human insight and creativity.

Once again, we can learn from nature in these days. Real growth takes time and is patient. As the proverb reminds us  “Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow”, not immediately, but slowly, over time. Let us create gentle periods of less “productive”, more reflective activities – walking, reading, reflecting, meditating – and thus nurture other habits of mind.


A Time for Resting

Normally the mind is a whirlwind of thought, and meditation is a practice that calms this down and helps us develop a peaceful state of mind. Not only is our mind busy thinking, we’re usually thinking about the past or the future. We’re either reliving old dramas or imagining what could happen tomorrow or in ten years and trying to plan for it. We usually aren’t experiencing the present moment at all. We can’t change the past, and the future is always ahead of us — we never reach it, have you ever noticed? So, as long as this process continues, our mind never comes to rest. The mind can never just settle down and feel at ease.

When we practice sitting meditation over time, we get better at catching our thoughts and releasing them. Gradually the mind begins to settle naturally into a resting state. This is great because it allows us to be fully present in our lives. When we aren’t being pulled into the past or future, we can just be right here, where we actually live. To be in the present moment simply means to be awake and aware of yourself and your surroundings. That‘s the beginning of peace and contentment.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Kindness

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and to purchase bread
only kindness that raises its head
from the world to say
it is I you have been looking for
and goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye,  Words from Under the Words

Allowing ourselves some quiet in our busy lives

Finding quiet time isn’t a luxury; it’s essential for protecting our health.  It allows us to rest the body and the mind in a world that increasingly values speed and distraction.

After a pebble touches the surface of the river, it allows itself to sink slowly. It will reach the bed of the river without any effort. Once the pebble is at the bottom of the river, it continues to rest. It allows the water to pass by.

I think the pebble reaches the bed of the river by the shortest path because
it allows itself to fall without making any effort. During our sitting meditation we can allow ourselves to rest like a pebble. We can allow ourselves to sink naturally without
effort to the position of sitting, the position of resting.

Resting is a very important practice; we have to learn the art of resting. Resting is the first part of meditation. You should allow your body and your mind to rest. Our mind as well as our body needs to rest. The problem is that not many of us know how to allow our body and mind to rest. We are always struggling; struggling has
become a kind of habit.

When an animal in the jungle is wounded, it knows how to find a quiet place, lie down and do nothing. The animal knows that is the only way to get healed-to lay down and just rest, not thinking of anything, including hunting and eating.  What it needs is to rest, to do nothing, and that is why its health is restored.  In our consciousness there are wounds also, lots of pains. Our consciousness also needs to rest in order to restore itself. Our consciousness is just like our body. Our body knows how to heal itself if we allow it the chance to do so.

Thich Nhat Hahn

The cure for sadness

I know a cure for sadness:

Let your hands touch something that

makes your eyes smile.

I bet there are a hundred objects close by that can do that.

Look at beauty’s gift to us –

her power is so great she enlivens

the earth, the sky, our soul.

Mirabai