Attention, Awareness and the Paradigm of the Seeds
So I’m going to say a few things about myself and I want you to notice if these things are also maybe true about you too.
OK. Sometimes I can get stuck in thought loops where I’m perseverating on a thought or an idea that kind of takes over. Worrying at night before I go to bed about something that happened that day or something I have to do the next day would be a good example.
Sometimes I have a feeling of unease where I feel kind of a pit in my stomach. I’m not sure why its there or even what it is that I’m feeling - just that it’s unpleasant. Maybe fear, worry, sadness.
Often when these things happen - the mind looping and the vague emotion spiraling - I distract myself with things. Sometimes those things aren’t particularly good for me.
Have you ever said something and then immediately wished you could take it back? YUP.
Sometimes I set out to do something and I end up doing something else. “I’ll just have one glass of wine at this party.” “I’m definitely going to get my mediation in today.” Why can’t it just happen if I want it to?
So the level of awareness that we have on a daily basis of our THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, WORDS AND ACTIONS is pretty limited. Some days are better than others, but some days.. Its like driving through a torrential downpour with your wipers on at full speed and you barely get glimpses of the road and you’re just white knuckling it.
MINDFULNESS is paying attention to the present moment in a specific way, on purpose and without judgement.
OK…. so what? Well, the tools of mindfulness serve as attention training. And greater facility with attention leads to greater depth of awareness.
So why do we want to have greater awareness?
Well- the goal would be to be AWARE of what we’re thinking. Catch ourselves when we get caught in a thinking loop, obsessive thinking, what they call in AA “stinking thinking.”
The goal would be to be AWARE of what we’re feeling. I understand I feel sad right now. I can name it. There’s actually great power in being able to name what we feel. It can give us the power to detach from it and even allow the negative emotion to go away completely.
The goal would be to be AWARE of what we say before we say it. Respond civilly in conversation as opposed to reacting emotionally.
The goal would be to be AWARE of what we do and in return have a bit more self control.
That sounds great right? Something we could use. But it goes deeper.
What if it wasn’t just AWARENESS of what we thought, felt, said and did but also an understanding of our MOTIVATIONS behind what we were thinking, feeling, saying and doing.
Huge right? But it even goes deeper.
What if in addition to being aware and understanding our own motivations, our brain could in the present moment DISCERN or WEIGH our thoughts, emotions, words and actions against our own core values? Is what I’m saying right now leading to really effective communication with my partner? Is what I’m doing in this lesson really encouraging, not just understanding, but compassion and wisdom? Is what I’m feeling right now really a healthy way to respond to this present moment?
We would have so much more agency in our own lives right?
We know through studies that a huge reason that people feel anxious and depressed is that they feel a lack of control in their lives. Control is a human need that must stay in balance to be healthy. We can’t take away the things that cause stress in our lives, but we can learn tools to handle the stress - to be more in control - to be well.
Image from Still Water Sangha of Minnesota: https://stillwatersanghamn.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/the-eight-consciousnesses/
The Paradigm of the Seeds
Here’s a circle. This circle is our mind. This upper half is our conscious mind and the lower half is our stored consciousness. The fallacy is that we think we have control over what happens in our conscious mind. If that was true we could tell someone who was depressed to just “get over it.” or How much does it really help when you’re worrying about something for someone to say, “Don’t worry.” It doesn’t help. But mindfulness can help us influence what happens in our conscious mind.
OK - here it is. Say that this upper half - our conscious mind is a garden. And in our stored consciousness there are all these seeds. These seeds are made up of all the thoughts, emotions, words and actions that make up human experience.
Now some of these seeds are wholesome seeds and some are unwholesome. Now remember this is a non-judgement zone those aren’t “good” or “bad” seeds. Wholesome seeds grow into things that lead to health and happiness. Unwholesome seeds lead to suffering. How do we know what seeds will grow into our consciousness? Well, the ones we feed and water.
So the work comes in four parts:
How do we feed and water the wholesome seeds?
Once they grow into consciousness, how do we keep them there as long as possible?
How do we keep from feeding and watering the unwholesome seeds?
And if they do grow into suffering, how do we allow them to wither out of consciousness as quickly as possible?
These are where the tools and strategies that are very practical come into play.
First how are these seeds fed and watered?They’re fed and watered by what we take into our experience through our senses. What we see? What we feel? What we eat? Everything really. And if we are going through life without awareness we don’t know what’s feeding the wholesome seeds and what’s feeding the unwholesome seeds. And they are different for everybody.
Here’s an example. When I was growing up my mom loved fashion magazines. We had a ton around all the time. I loved them. But I realized that when I spent half an hour looking at a fashion magazine, soon after I got that pit in my stomach. That feeling of unease. I realized that they made me feel insecure - I wasn’t going to ever be as beautiful or thin as those models. And it made me feel a sense of scarcity - I didn’t have the money to buy the clothes and makeup that promised to make me as thin and beautiful as those models. But guess what? I stopped looking at those magazines and the pit in my stomach went away.
Now for someone else - those same magazine might feed and water the seeds of creativity or confidence. That’s why we can’t judge and say THIS IS BAD because it might not be bad for everyone.
So once we understand the things that feed the wholesome seeds and the unwholesome seeds we can focus on giving our attention to the things that feed the wholesome seeds.
And once they bloom - how do we keep them there? Well, we tend to them. We practice gratitude. We share them through service to others. There’s all kinds of ways. But even if joy fades and the bloom withers.. The seed itself grows bigger and so next time - it takes less feeding and watering for it to shoot up again. (we’re connecting those neural pathways)
Now nobody’s perfect, no one’s upbringing has been perfect and we can’t control the world around us - so inevitably the unwholesome seeds will grow. How do we allow them to wither out of consciousness?
Well, often times what our default might be is to ignore or deny the suffering and keep it from even coming into consciousness. But here’s the thing - it still grows. It grows within our stored consciousness and it becomes a time bomb and eventually a tiny little thing will set it off and that’s when trauma can occur. We don’t want that. Another default may be to unknowingly keep feeding it. That may look like - acting out on our suffering - yelling at our kids when we’re frustrated at work. Continuing to tell the story of our suffering over and over and wallowing in it. That just makes the suffering grow bigger.
So what do we do? We allow it to be in our AWARENESSbut we refuse to give it ATTENTION. We acknowledge its there but we do not let it rule our actions. We find a state of EQUANIMITY where we can live with the suffering, knowing it doesn’t control us. We can choose to give our attention to the wholesome things in our lives and tend to those. This isn’t denial. It’s acceptance.
There’s two things at play. (1) There’s the event of our suffering and (2) there’s our relationship to our suffering and most times our relationship to our suffering is the thing that determines whether our suffering lasts and also whether those wholesome seeds continue to grow.
So that’s the paradigm of the seeds and the goal of mindfulness. As we work together, I'm going to give you tools to cultivate those wholesome seeds, sustain that wellness once it’s there, identify what things might be leading to suffering for you, and when suffering does happen - give you some tools to handle that as well.
This work that you are undertaking is not just for your own wellness, but the wellness of your family, your community and the global world.