Thursday, 19 May 2016

Attention and where we put it.

We often have a tendency to not be aware of where we place our attention. It goes to the area with the most stimulus, the one that's drawing our attention most strongly at the time. Sometimes this is a good thing that needs to happen (responding to that fire alarm) sometimes, not so good.

In fact many people do not realise that they can decide, or at least influence, where they place their attention. 

Developing an awareness that we can choose to place our attention on given objects is a powerful thing. It allows us to direct our thoughts and perceptions in a way that we choose rather than where stimulus takes us. 

It can be easier to focus our attention if we are very interested in the subject, a craft we love, a piece of art work we really admire, a great book, someone we are in love with. Are all relatively easy things to be attentive to. 

I always remember focusing on my father slurping his cereal in the morning. I can become obsessed with people's leaking earphones on the train. I can focus on the negative comments or feedback I get rather than the positive.
In this way we can focus on what is in reality often a small amount of information, and by doing so ignore the majority of the available information. In the process often reinforcing less skilful or negative ways of viewing our daily world. This can result in a feeling of the world being more negative than it actually is, a real shame. This can have a result of increasing our level of stress and anxiety. 

Until we learn to direct our attention; where it goes, is where it's gone before, in effect old habits.

So how do we start to be aware of and move where we place our attention. 
Well I would suggest starting with the body.
An awareness of how our body feels, how our posture is; are we holding tension? Is a practical way of remembering to check in with where our attention is. I have noticed that if I become aware of slumping, I can then see that I have lost mental awareness. If I correct my spine then my awareness increases without having to 'make it'. If I notice that I have a tight jaw, I also notice that I'm often having negative thoughts. 

We can play with attention exercises. Say for the day we will; notice every time we see the colour blue, notice every time we have a judgmental thought, notice ever time we are offered service. 
If you have a mind that's been allowed to wonder where it wants for years, maybe decades, then it takes time and practice to 'behave' and go where you want it to. However the results of working on this can be interesting, and in some cases life changing. 

If you are interested in taking this deeper, I would recommend the courses held by the Todo institute.

The books of David K Reynolds are also good places to start 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Ping ping ping

Someone I know recently lost their phone. Aside from the very real problems with having no ones numbers and not being contactable her comments on the effects were really interesting. 

She realised how many times a day she, 'checked' her phone. 

I think if you are one of the majority of folks who have a smartphone you might recognise this. Or you might not, or you might have an idea but maybe your not aware of quit how often you do it. 

Most of us now have; email, text, whatsapp, Facebook and many more apps on our phone. Most of us have an alert to tell us when we get 'events' from these apps, a ping, a vibration or maybe both. But most of us will be in the habit of checking the phone to see if we have received any communication. 

As Sandi Toksvig said; it's like having a working doorbell but repeatedly going to the front door 'just in case'. 

You can make an argument that we are here becourse our ancestors were vigilant. They avoided danger long enough to breed. Vigilance seems to be a learned part of our make up. And if you have ever driven a car or walked late at night through a dodge area you know it's still often needed.
But think about how you feel during these times. After a long drive one is normally shattered. The same after that really important meeting etc. 
It's to do with the difference between the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems, but I'll go into that in another post. 

Being constantly vigilant is really damaging to our health. 
Our lives are full of situations that make us vigilant or stressed, a lot of them we may not be able to easily avoid. But maybe how we relate to our smartphones and computers is a good place to start. 

When you become aware of the itch to look at your phone, maybe take a good moment, a deep breath in and out and see if you really need to. Try it for a week or two and see how you feel. Can you turn down the vigilance dial a bit. You might find you; sleep better, feel better, talk to loved ones more, digest your food better, see that tree in blossom.........

Thursday, 14 April 2016

What do we pay attention to and what do we choose to ignore?

Those who are enlightened about delusion are buddhas. Those who are deluded about enlightenment are ordinary beings.
~Dogen (Shobogenzo, Genjokoan)

Some time ago I was sitting on a bench and took a picture of the sun coming through the foliage. Im sitting on the same bench as I type this now. 

The scene below is what is on the ground. Did I not see it, did I ignore it, or did I not want to share it with the world?  

And maybe more interestingly what aspects of myself is the ground, that I don't see or maybe glimpse and don't want to share, my delusions? 

Tuesday, 5 January 2016


I was shown the Ladybird Mindfulness book a few days ago. The person who showed me it sat back (well they may have actually been standing but you know what I mean) and waited  
Now I don't behave in what many people see as the typical Buddhist way, in fact most of the Buddhists I know don't. I get cross, I swear (sometimes) and I express strong opinions (lots). I think she had lit the blue touch paper and was waiting to see what would happen

But on this occasion I was just sad, I was sad because I saw the book as a mild piss take of an aspect of Buddhist thought that I hold very dear, that of Right Mindfulness 

I have had many chats to quite a few people over the last few years as the Mindfulness craze took off. 
My thoughts have always been that practising mindfulness within the specific context that it arose (alongside the other 7 aspects of The Eightfold Path) is wonderful. But that if you have to take this one aspect and use that, its better than doing many other things, but not ideal and not 'the real deal'. 

I feared that the popularisation of  Mindfulness could also lead to its downfall. We (humans) seem to have a habit of half understanding something, half giving it a go and then trashing it when it does not give us the instant results we were sold. I use the word sold deliberately in this context as one can buy Mindfulness (books, DVD's, Courses etc.) 

The book is supposed to be light-hearted and I suppose it is, but it deals with something that I think is a crucial practice for so many people, poking fun at it, is I fear part of discrediting it.

Mindfulness has been commercialised at a shocking rate and been pounced on by lots of folks who want to make money from the craze. I fear that its a result of taking something out of context, but as most people mistakenly think that Mindfulness is Buddhist practice I feel its a great shame  

Wednesday, 9 December 2015


For me Donald Trump has brought to mind an important idea in Buddhism; 'Right Speech'.
It's one of the Noble Eightfold Path and is often contained in the precepts that one can take. 

People brought up in theistic societies have to be a little careful when they approach Buddhist ideas of 'Right' or precepts as they (we) tend to jump to commandments (thow shalt not). They are not commandments, they are nearer to suggestions. The reason for the difference would take ages to explain, just go with it. 

So if we accept that they are suggestions what's to stop us breaking them? 

Well let's look at Right Speach. It's broken down in lots of different ways depending on the Budhist tradition and ones teacher. But a common idea is speaking in a way that promotes harmony and does not promote discord. 

If we go back to why we should follow them and what's to stop us breaking them. We can clearly see what happens when we don't follow Right Speech. Things go wrong, people get upset, things get said back, arguments start, fights break out, wars happen. It's as plain as the nose on your face. 

But like the nose on your face it can be hard to spot. The temptation to say something (which we know won't help) is often so strong. Or we loose sight of our self and say things before we realise. It's not until we get the feedback (a cross look, a punch in the face) that we think, ah maybe that was not Right Speech. The Buddhist approach to realising that we have lost right speech is to just go back to the desire and commitment to keeping right speech. 

But rather than waiting for external feedback we can use or bodies to self monitor. Wrong speech feels wrong.  There is a change in our bodies before and during 'wrong' speech. It's probably different for others but for me; my chest and stomach tighten, my mind freezes a little, my breathing changes, I feel my body getting tight or hard...... There are clear signs that things are changing and not for the better. If I notice in time I can not say what I was about to, if I'm a little slow I can stop saying what I'm saying and if I'm very slow I can start apologising earlier! 

In the Buddhist tradition I'm part of, Right Speech comes before (this is way simplified) Right Thought and Right Mindfullness. One may have difficulties thinking right thoughts but no one knows; until they become Wrong Speech or Wrong Action. One has to do Wrong or better Right Speach and the doing gives a little more time to be aware

Having the awareness takes dedicated practice, being aware is not something one just gets, then it's there forever.  One has to be vigilant all the time.  But the alternative is really not good as Donald has demonstrated so well.