The Mind Illuminated by John Yates

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Summary

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” you want attention restricted to. The breath is usually the best thing to start with.

All you’re really “doing” in meditation is forming and holding specific conscious intentions—nothing more. Remembering and returning your focus to the meditation object is what’s important.

It doesn’t matter whether the breath is the center of attention or in the background. Feel satisfied so long as the meditation object remains in the field of conscious awareness.

The only bad meditation session is the one you didn’t do! When a distracting thought arises, remember: let it come, let it be, let it go.

Conscious experience takes two different forms, attention and peripheral awareness. Attention singles out some small part of the content of the field of conscious awareness from the rest in order to analyze and interpret it. On the other hand, peripheral awareness is more holistic, open, and inclusive, and provides the overall context for conscious experience. It has more to do with the relationships of objects to one another and to the whole.

Mindfulness means that, in whatever situation we find ourselves, the balance between moments of attention and moments of awareness is just right.

Beginning meditators often try to stabilize attention by focusing intensely on the breath and pushing everything else out of awareness. Don’t do this. Don’t try to limit peripheral awareness. Instead, to cultivate mindfulness, do just the opposite—allow sounds, sensations, thoughts, and feelings to continue in the background.

Intention plays an important role in each moment of consciousness: it determines the objects of subsequent moments of consciousness. The stronger our intention to attend to a particular object, the more moments of attention will subsequently be focused on that object.

We can use intention to profoundly transform how the mind behaves. Intentions repeatedly sustained over the course of many meditation sessions give rise to frequently repeated mental acts, which eventually become habits of the mind. Intentionally redirecting attention, repeated often, trains your unconscious to do it automatically.

Ultimately, the most valuable effect of mindfulness is its ability to radically reprogram our deepest misconceptions about the nature of reality, and about who and what we are.

Book Notes

⇾ All you’re really “doing” in meditation is forming and holding specific conscious intentions—nothing more. Remembering and returning your focus to the meditation object is what’s important.

⇾ The only bad meditation session is the one you didn’t do! When a distracting thought arise, remember: let it come, let it be, let it go.

⇾ To sustain your focus on the breath (and avoid mind wandering):

  • Consider the beginning of the out-breath as the start of the cycle. That way, the pause occurs in the middle of your cycle, and is less likely to trip you up. (Inhale, Count, Exhale)
  • Silently say the number during the pause at the end of the out-breath. (Inhale, Exhale, Count)

⇾ Every time you lose your focus on the breath, train the mind by saying “I’m happy to have noticed I lost my focus. I intend to stay present on the breath”.

⇾ Beginning meditators often try to stabilize attention by focusing intensely on the breath and pushing everything else out of awareness. Don’t do this. Don’t try to limit peripheral awareness. Instead, to cultivate mindfulness, do just the opposite—allow sounds, sensations, thoughts, and feelings to continue in the background.

⇾ If you maintain peripheral awareness, you’ll eventually learn to notice potential distractions when they arise, and attention is less likely to be captured.

⇾ It doesn’t matter whether the breath is the center of attention or in the background. Feel satisfied so long as the meditation object remains in the field of conscious awareness.

The antidote that calms monkey-mind is to become “grounded in the body.”

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” you want attention restricted to.

Always recall that success comes through repetition with a relaxed attitude, rather than from effortful striving.

⇾ Whenever a distraction grows too strong to ignore, whether it’s pain in the body or the sound of a jackhammer outside the window, you purposely make it into your meditation object.

We can use intention to profoundly transform how the mind behaves. Intention, provided it is correctly formulated and sustained, is what creates the causes and conditions for stable attention and mindfulness. Intentions repeatedly sustained over the course of many meditation sessions give rise to frequently repeated mental acts, which eventually become habits of the mind.

⇾ The part of the mind that sustains attention for more than a few moments works entirely unconsciously. We can’t use our will to control how long we remain focused on one thing.

⇾ Even though this weighing process isn’t under our conscious control, we can still influence it through consciously held intentions. Just by intending to observe an object and to come back whenever we get distracted, we’re training that unconscious process to help us stay focused more continuously.

⇾ Intentionally redirecting attention, repeated often, trains your unconscious to do it automatically.

⇾ Intention plays an important role in each moment of consciousness: it determines the objects of subsequent moments of consciousness. The stronger our intention to attend to a particular object, the more moments of attention will subsequently be focused on that object.

⇾ Conscious experience takes two different forms, attention and peripheral awareness. Attention singles out some small part of the content of the field of conscious awareness from the rest in order to analyze and interpret it. On the other hand, peripheral awareness is more holistic, open, and inclusive, and provides the overall context for conscious experience. It has more to do with the relationships of objects to one another and to the whole.

⇾ Once you can direct and sustain your attention, you will then work on controlling the scope of attention: how wide or narrow you want your focus to be.

Strong peripheral awareness helps tone down the self-centered tendencies of attention, making perception more objective. But when peripheral awareness fades, the way we perceive things becomes self-centered and distorted.

⇾ Think of consciousness as a limited power source. Both attention and awareness draw their energy from this shared source. With only a limited amount of energy available for both, there will always be a trade-off between the two.

⇾ Increasing the power of consciousness isn’t a mysterious process. It’s a lot like weight training. You simply do exercises where you practice sustaining close attention and strong peripheral awareness at the same time. This is the only way to make consciousness more powerful.

⇾ Why does attention move in a scattered way? It’s a matter of evolution: selection pressures have favored spontaneously moving attention more strongly than stable attention. Constantly moving attention keeps us on the lookout for whatever will help us to survive and reproduce.

Evolution has not selected against stable attention, even though we’re not as strongly predisposed to use it. When we meditate, we’re training and strengthening this inborn but less-used capacity.

⇾ Stilling the mind does not mean getting rid of thoughts and blocking out all distractions. It means reducing the constant movement of attention.

Mindfulness means that, in whatever situation we find ourselves, the balance between moments of attention and moments of awareness is just right. Whenever we lose this balance, we lose mindfulness.

⇾ [Referring to trauma] We often get so focused on the triggering event and our own emotions that these unconscious programs don’t take in any new information about the current situation. That’s why they don’t change. The practice of mindfulness works because it provides new information to these programs.

The most valuable effect of mindfulness is its ability to radically reprogram our deepest misconceptions about the nature of reality, and about who and what we are.

⇾ As we practice mindfulness, however, we accumulate more and more evidence that things are very different from what we believed. In particular, the thoughts, feelings, and memories we associate with a sense of self are seen more objectively, revealing themselves to be constantly changing, impersonal, and often contradictory processes occurring in different parts of the mind.

“The beauty and significance of a life well lived consists not in the works we leave behind, or in what history has to say about us. It comes from the quality of conscious experience that infuses our every waking moment, and from the impact we have on others.”

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