Consider a graph with two axes. One is attentional, illustrating how you relate to what you experience. This could range from highly engrossed, even immersed, through to interested, neutrally aware, then into resistant and finally avoidant and/or in unconscious denial about. The second axis is emotional, reflecting liking or disliking. This spectrum would range from the highly pleasurable to the highly uncomfortable. Now consider how you meet life’s moments, and how that would appear if you were to illustrate it on this graph. The question is, are you living the whole territory of these two dimensions?
If you’re interested in meditation, it’s important to understand that you are engaging in awareness development. So in terms of the first axis, you are waking up to the movement of your attention. First, you are going to see what it means to be present, and what alternative attentional settings there are for this. You will see how attention roams, how you distract yourself, avoid situations or recognizing facts, how you are attracted to and cling to certain experiences, and generally how you get lost from being awake. Secondly, as you’re seeing this, you also begin to exercise some control over where your attention goes, for how long, and what it orients to. As you develop in your meditation practice, both the seeing and the gaining control elements are happening simultaneously.
Meanwhile, there’s the other axis. There’s your life, noticing what parts of it you’re enjoying, what you’re neutral to, and what elements you really dislike. In terms of this second axis, you’re discovering something about why attention roams.
It’s a learned habit to avoid or wander off, attentionally, from what’s here and now. Why remain present if it’s not pleasant in this moment? A lot of people give up on meditation because when they find out about the wandering mind, they don’t enjoy what they find. And since they’re not accustomed to remaining interested in the territory of the unpleasant, they follow the learned habit of checking out. They check out from their own minds by checking out from the practice. Can you sense the dog-chasing-it’s-tail?
New students often begin by telling me that they can’t meditate. After we’ve meditated together, we spend some time together exploring their original statement, to find out if it’s possible to frame this differently. Students can recognize and beautifully describe the qualities of their wandering minds. This is stage one, the seeing. They do it perfectly. And it’s not always instantly enjoyable to find out about wandering mind. Much of the territory we travel when we’re less interested in being present consists of the boring, the anxious, the judgmental, the resistant.
To succeed in a life that includes meditation, above everything else you gotta wanta know. The more of the territory you’re willing to be interested in, the more you’re going to find out. In meditation, this is considered a very good thing. Finding out what’s in the uncharted territory opens up a vast domain of potential. Seeing what’s happening has the wonderful effect of dismantling mind habits that are dialing you out from this one precious life you have been granted. So what’s it going to be… do you want to be awake for it?