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Distraction
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Distraction
7/19/11 2:33 AM
Ok, here's something I've long struggled with how to deal with. My mind naturally tends towards OCD, and this commonly manifests in things like portions of songs or melodies running on loop multiple times through my mind, the old earworm phenomenon (monkeymind) This is on one hand just the natural activity of my mind, and so it should not be suppressed or repressed but accepted, observed, and above all detachedly observed. Doing so, however, seems to unavoidably draw me into the song itself, for example. I cannot observe a thought and truly let it exist without altering it or losing my pure attention to the moment. I've tried to do so on more occasions than I can count and it just ain't happenin'.

So you see the fundamental paradox? Acceptance and equanimity are key, and yet at times this equanimity can only be sustained in a mental environment with specific conditions being met. Often suppression of thought, either consciously or otherwise, is the only method I have recourse to, but that kills equanimity and makes the whole game pointless.

Sometimes this isn't a problem, because my mind happens to be more at peace. Other times, especially when I'm often dealing with re-observation and other pretty unpleasant mind states, it arises in part due to that and confusion predominates.
RE: Distraction
7/19/11 3:26 AM as a reply to Mike Kich.
Equanimity does not mean you don't work for things to change. Take the following exercise, for instance:

Ian Andrews:

There are some methods one can use in order to bring the monkey mind into check. One of these is a method that I used before I was exposed to Buddhist meditation techniques. The only reason I mention it here is because it WORKED. It involves simply telling the mind to STOP whenever mental proliferation begins. However, just telling the mind to STOP will not be effective. You must do it with INTENTION! A serious and strong dose of INTENTION must be present. It's important to note that it is not necessary to repeat a verbal command in the mind, but to saturate each instance when a thought arises with a strong desire or intention to stop. Through the sheer repetition of this command, with intention, the mind will eventually become harnessed and obey. This method is a direct assault upon the monkey mind in order to subdue it.

When any other thought enters the mind one crushes it with the intentional command to STOP. The more determined the perseverance, the better the result. The restless mind begins to give up the struggle. As you substitute every approaching thought with the command to stop, the periods of absolute quiescence become longer. At first it is only for a few seconds, but with constant practice there come minutes of unruffled peace. This method of the direct approach to quieting the mind can be practiced at any time of the day: walking down the street, sitting in a bus, in fact all day long whenever the mind is not immediately engaged in some necessary mental activity.

You can even use it as you begin meditating, if need be. In this instance, once you have commanded the mind to stop, you simply return to your object of meditation and carry on from there. If another intruding thought comes along, you tell it to stop, and then immediately return to your meditation object, resuming your meditation. I know it sounds hokey, but it works.


Which is not to say that this exercise shouldn't be done with equanimity: if it fails at first as it repeatedly will, and you become irritated or frustrated, you'll just be adding to the mental proliferation.

I have been applying this exercise for the past few weeks with good results.
RE: Distraction
7/19/11 8:48 AM as a reply to Mike Kich.
think about this kind of effort: you hold your arms straight up in front of you. keep holding them there. hold them there until they get tired. at some point you'll need to relax, so you drop them. but, the shoulder muscles will recover really quickly (a second or two) cause no great weight was used. so as soon as they do, you raise them again, hold them again. maybe try this in person to see what it's like.

try applying that kind of effort with thoughts. thoughts start arising, so put up extra vigilance to watch or 'suppress' them (but not really suppressing so much as watching very keenly for them to arise, and when they do, not following them). just focus only on that for a bit. kind of apply mental 'pressure' equivalent to holding your arms up. the pressure will relax (arms down), then just apply a little more (arms back up). see if you can get into it a bit.

i found that that would work, but all my attention would be spent on that. however, after doing it for a bit, it seemed i was more easily able to follow another object of meditation, with less interruption...

note: i've only tried this once/twice, with promising results, but i haven't pursued it, so let me know if it helps.
RE: Distraction
7/19/11 12:40 PM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
Claudiu you have described very well the exact same practice I have been doing for a few weeks now --- I find it works really well at getting the monkey mind to settle down.

So, worth a try
RE: Distraction
8/1/11 9:14 AM as a reply to Mike Kich.
Wotcha Mike.

I know what you mean on this one. Swearwords repeating themselves, the last song you heard before retreat asking you to warble along, it's all a bugger ;)

I'm not an ultra-experienced meditator like this lot, but sometimes beginner's mind adds a useful perspective, so unless I'm missing the point...

Perhaps you could reflect on your general attitude towards the distraction? 'When I get distracted, this is bad' is a judgement. That judgement can turn it into an issue with various effects on practice. 'Distraction happens, carry on regardless' is an observation that is less loaded...

Is the idea that it's 'either observe or suppress' a bit black and white? Actually you could drop in a mantra, a saying ('like a cat watching a mouse' is my favourite) or an ironic thought ('ah, there it goes again') to disrupt this chain and then go back to the noting/breath/whatever? Or would this be more distracting for you?

Would it make sense to go back to the breath and do some very simple samatha meditation for a few minutes if monkey mind is chattering too loudly, then resume vipassana?

In the spirit of debate and sharing experiences: our friend Bruno (hey matey) points out another approach that I imagine works for some people, but I've found just increases internal clamour with me; it's almost as if the mind resents being whacked with such a stick and yammers more loudly. A kind approach or a 'don't fuel the fire' approach tends to help me side-step these problems.
RE: Distraction
8/1/11 1:42 PM as a reply to Liam O'Sullivan.
In the spirit of debate and sharing experiences: our friend Bruno (hey matey) points out another approach that I imagine works for some people, but I've found just increases internal clamour with me; it's almost as if the mind resents being whacked with such a stick and yammers more loudly. A kind approach or a 'don't fuel the fire' approach tends to help me side-step these problems.


I've found this to be very true as well. My mind needs a very fine balance between concentration and mindfulness/attention. I've read once that concentration is really basically equal to force, and I find that very very true. Whenever I determine that I'm absolutely going to stick with my object of meditation and bulldoze through thoughts with sheer force of will, I end up being distracted by a physical tension in my throat and chest and really throughout my body that I know is not healthy and is not really helping. So I sense that, then stop and restart when I quickly see I'm floundering. Up to this point this tactic hasn't worked.

On the other hand, not applying enough force and taking the "kind" approach only works sometimes. That works when the mind is already quiet and settled, but not when it's active and very creative. It's one thing to note everything that comes up, but quite another to be be whirling around in a storm of thoughts and images and mental echoes of sounds so fast that you can barely notice them before they're replaced by something else. That sort of thing leads off into all kinds of tangents, and before stream entry it's basically impossible to observe those kind of thoughts with the sort of detachment needed. So it's kind of a Catch 22, isn't it? Too much grim force blows the game, but force is also needed because without it there is only chaos. With only chaos, nothing gets done. This is why I've gone towards simpler and simpler techniques until it really can't get any simpler, like straight Vipassana and Zazen, because there's less to screw up. This also isn't something new which I've never brought up before, instead it's just something that I haven't found a satisfactory answer for.


On a related but different tack, one thing I notice distracting me majorly (it did again last night and this morning) is psychological stuff bubbling up pretty easily. These things only come up so easily because they need to be dealt with, being just as real as anything else. They need to be dealt with separately though, because meditation is not good at dealing with psychological issues, because that's not what it's for. There seems to be overall a misconception that meditation also makes you sane and imbues perfect mental health - from my own experience it at least allows you to monitor more or less what's going on, but it doesn't resolve issues so much in the earlier years.
RE: Distraction
8/3/11 8:02 PM as a reply to Mike Kich.
I can really relate to what you are struggling with, Mike. This is how I deal with "creativity" and "psychological stuff":

What helps me accept and release (as in let go of) the tension that causes this noisy "creativity" is to realize that causality is behind it:

Stian Gudmundsen Høiland:
It is a fact that this noise occurs only as a natural effect of whatever caused it, and these causes are now out of my control, as they have already passed, and no amount of will/volition can ever change the past.

Immediately following the realization of this
(1) grasping is released,
(2) the tension that this grasping created and fed/energized/sustained diminishes and
(3) the "creativity" subsides.

The "creativity" does not suddenly disappear but
(3.1) looses momentum/energy (as the source of its energy - the tension - diminishes) and
(3.2) eventually becomes so little that it is no longer an obstacle.

In summary and more figuratively speaking:

Grasping (whatever, e.g. a song) creates
tension (as in the tension of the muscles of a hand grasping something heavy),
tension grows over time (the hand grasps harder and harder because the inclination to grasp never ends) and
tension manifests (fatigue sets in or, more relevant to your question, mind noise or "creativity" appears) when it reaches the threshold where you can perceive it.

What causes the grasping/inclination to grasp is the missing piece in this puzzle and it is mundanely simple: habit. The habit of analyzing interesting problems, the habit of forming opinions and likes/dislikes, the habit of distracting one self, the habit of selfing. Speculative, argumentative, rationalizing, emotional habits - to name a few.

----

When I practice I don't mentally go through all of this. I have a simple sentence that quickly reminds me of it: "This is how the mind is". It means that whatever it is that I am experiencing is (1) caused by something in the past and (2) is out of my control.

(1) Fighting the past is just... down right stupid.
(2) As much as the causes in the past are out of my control, so are the effects of them in the now (this one is tough to honestly believe, but it's this realization that we're all looking for).

It is not a matter of how to "deal" with the noise/creativity or what to "do", as much as it is to "accept it" and "let it be" as it is - to not do anything about it.