Wednesday, June 3, 2009

clarifying oranges and deities

Three words that, clearly, should not be in the same sentence together.

An email exchange prompted by an earlier post.

The question:  
Dear Mr. McLeod, I greatly value your teaching but found the latest email about concentration not being meditation a bit odd. My experience with both shamatha and (even more so) deity practice is that they are unequivocally concentration practices. Yes it's important to drop any sense of undue struggle or will but the whole point at least for a long while is to drop (but not supress) thoughts that distract one from focus on the object and return to it. There is a clear preference for one object over all others and an ever clearer preference for concentration over distraction. What am I missing?  

And the reply:  
I'm not sure you are missing anything. My aim was to move people away from trying to bind the mind to the object by force of will and toward bringing about stable attention by resting with the object (or more accurately, in the experience of the object). This particularly applies to deity practice. Here, one is not actually focusing on an object, but resting in the sense of being the deity. All kinds of internal voices rise up against this (we experience these as distractions). Concentration tends to lead people in the direction of suppressing those voices, creating tension in the system, which undermines stability in attention. Resting in the whole experience allows the emotional material driving those voices to be experienced, releasing the emotional tension, and thus the distractions, and now one can rest more completely as the deity. This way of practicing is not what most people usually understand from the word "concentration".


George Draffan said...

Trying to hold attention on one object (experience) to the exclusion of other objects (experiences) can be the result of (1) poor instruction, or (2) the idea that attention can only include one object or experience at a time, or (3) a tendency (often present, at least in me) to misuse my ability to direct my attention in order to avoid what I don't like. There's also a temporarily skillful redirection of attention away from distraction -- for example, I stop listening to the radio when I hear a nearby car honking its horn; or I stop listening to self-centered stories in my mind when I recognize they are derailing my intentions in a relationship. The ability to focus and the ability to be aware of the field are both essential, given the complexity of human experience. I find this challenging to practice and to teach.

ellen said...

Teaching is a fluid and dynamic
interchange ,sometimes.
Other times the interchange is barely audible , flat and seemingly without impact.
As a student and a teacher I find myself all over the place.
The good news is that you are recognizing the struggle.

My question to Ken is :
Do you perceive one of the challenges of teaching to be , trying to remove your own experiences/ habits from the interchange so that you might listen to the student ?

Because I do. I probably didn't listen to my students for 18 out of the 19 years I've taught,
and now it is only some of the time that I can listen.

Ken said...

As one listens to the student, one's own stuff inevitably arises. If one gets lost in it, then one is not listening to the student. If one suppresses the stuff, various problems arise. Best to sit in the experience of all the stuff AND listen to the student, not being confused by one's own material.