Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,
Lecture 2, Part 4 of 15 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.
CTT: I tried to give you a relatively pure – Can I use a word like pure? – a kind of pure psychological context for controlled attention practices last week. I’m sure it contains some more subtle assumptions that I’m not even aware of but which fit pretty well in our culture generally since I’m a product of that culture. And probably some subtle assumptions that rub up against some of the assumptions you have and may produce unnecessary friction. So if you find funny resistances or conflicts at any time, those may be very good points to bring up for us to talk about. Because then we may discover some hidden assumptions that are actually problems here.
With that introduction, I would like to hear from people who had difficulty practicing this concentrative meditation during the week so that we can fine tune those instructions a little better. I know for some people it was probably great, but the ones with difficulty are more interesting.
Student: I had difficulty with a lot of things. One thing is I don’t know if I was cheating. I was counting. I would count to four as I was breathing out, then pause for two, and then I’d breathe in and count to four. I was really focusing on my breath but also the numbers and counting. I didn’t know if that was, if the counting was a diversion from being attentive to my breath.
CTT: Did you Lords of Karma get that confession? (Laughter) Cheating. (Laughter) Oh yes. Well let’s put it this way, the goals of concentrative meditation are about calming your mind and focusing your mind and I gave a general technique for doing that. That doesn’t mean that it’s the best possible way to do it for every single person.
If you found that counting like that helped you focus better, that’s great. Sometimes I will count when I’m doing that kind of thing. I’ll just count the number of breaths. I generally do that when my mind is very restless, you know? Especially the verbal part of my mind, it’s going to have some words, right? It’s really restless to think about something. So I give it some numbers, one, two. It’s not a very rich diet but it’s something for that mind to chew on.
There are meditations that are probably better for people with extremely restless minds. I remember one which I was sworn to secrecy on, but I’ve forgotten the details so much that I know I can’t give out the secret of it. It was for people who were very restless, and it involved visualizing a transparent figure 8. There was a red ball moving around in it in one direction and a blue ball moving around it in the other direction while there was a mantra being recited silently in your head and a brief, deliberate breathing rhythm to keep up. You know, for the mind that needed to keep busy, that kept you busy! Of course it was almost impossible to do.
If adding that kind of deliberate counting helps you, fine. Now remember the goal eventually is to get your mind relatively quiet. Remember I say relatively here, not absolutely, relatively quiet and yet you’re still attentive. So there might come a point where you would find that counting is something of a distraction and you didn’t need it anymore. So it’s all right to experiment. Just don’t experiment in a new way every 10 seconds, because then you’re not trying to hold your mind steady on anything. (Laughter) Good. That’s a very useful comment.