Start by practicing the Self-Directed Attention Exercise to learn to control your attention. This is hard to do for everybody, but only because we are not used to it. Most of the time, we don't even know that we can control our attention. But we promise: you can do it.
Sit down, close your eyes, and just focus on the sensation of the air when it goes out of your nose. Spend some time just trying to feel that. Ten minutes. You may want to do just that the first time.
Next time, try counting the out-breaths. Every time the air goes out of your nose, count it silently in your mind. With the first out-breath, say to yourself silently: 1; with the second out-breath: 2. Until you get to 10.
Now, you will probably not be able to get beyond 1 or 2 without getting distracted by your thoughts. For instance, you may find yourself thinking that this exercise is stupid and you'll never gonna get it.
When you notice that you are thinking and not doing the exercise, stop. Don't criticize yourself, don't tell yourself you can't do it, etc. Stop right there and immediately move your attention to your breath and start counting again from 1. No judgement.
The point is not to get to 10. The point is to notice when you have moved away from the focus point (the breath) and then deliberately choose to move it back to the sensation of the breath.
Take 10 minutes a day to do this exercise, when you wake up or before you go to sleep. Set up a timer so you know when the time is over.
You may find yourself starting over and over from 1 for a while. This is completely normal. Don't push yourself too hard. Be patient with yourself. This is really hard to do in the beginning. As it becomes easier, you will be able to count to higher numbers and you will do it more often. It won't take long before you start to see the real benefit of this exercise in your life.
Do this for a couple of weeks. When you feel confident that you have acquired some control over your attention, move on to Step Two.
In the same way that you directed your attention to the feeling of your breath in your nostrils, move the focus of attention inward, looking for the faint sensation of what it feels like to be you. What you would call me.
What you are looking for here is the simple me-ness of you. Not the thoughts or the emotions rise and fall within you, or any ideas about your nature that you have heard or read about.
This simple act of inward looking at your me-ness, the sensation that you would call me, automatically dissolves the background of anxiety, distrust and dissatisfaction that is the experience of life for most of us.
Just one look is really enough, if it's done right. But since this is an unusual movement of attention and we are not used to it, it's hard to tell if you have done it right or not. We advise that you continue trying to get a taste, a feel of your me-ness whenever you feel the desire to do so. Do it until you're satisfied. This will not harm you and it can actually provide some relief. It's a safe place to put your attention. In time, you will simply lose interest in doing it, since in fact you are here all the time.
After that first look, you may experience relief, lightness, and a sense that all is really well for a few days, weeks, or even months. After that, there may be a period of confusion and psychological difficulty, in which old patterns of thought and behavior reappear.
You don't have to do anything to kill those diseased psychological mechanisms off because the only way that they live is through the energy you give them by attending to them.
The best way to get though this difficult time is to continue your daily practice of the Self-Directed Attention Exercise. This practice will help you strengthen your control over what you pay attention to and develop self-reliance.
After some time of practice, if you pay atention, you will notice that there is a slight space between you and your thoughts and feeling states. Just enought for you to see them for what they are. They are all thoughts. They are not you. You can see them and decline to give attention to them. In time, that space will grow.
After practicing Self-Directed Attention for a while, start using your attention to help the healing of your mind.
During the healing period, disturbing thoughts may appear in the mind, old patterns of reaction to certain situations.
Many thoughts will come to you, trying to distract you from this work. Thoughts of doubt, defeatism, hopelessness, fear, anger, etc. Any thought that does not offer a practical solution to a practical problem right now is irrelevant in the moment. It is safe to ignore it by moving your attention away from it.
Move your attention away from the thought and place it on the feeling of your breath as you learned with the practice of Self-Directed Attention. Do this as many times as you need to and for as long as you can hold your attention there. At this stage you don't need to count the breaths anymore. Just move attention away from the thought and onto the sensation of breathing.
A disturbing thought may be connected to a body sensation. This movement of attention can also help with disturbing body sensations. Move attention to the sensation and experience it directly, without naming it or trying ot get rid of it. Just feel it completely for as long as you can.
You can alternate between moving attention to the sensation of breathing and moving attention to the disturbing sensation in your body. Experiment.
Please let us know how this unfolds for you. It is often the case that a person will start the practice, not notice immediate results, and "forget" all about it. We assure you, the process will go on subconsciously, even if you think it is not working. And if you are not aware of what is happening to you, it is very likely that you will face mental, and sometimes physical, difficulties all alone. It is very important to keep in touch, to connect with others who are going through the same process. Our community is spread around the world. Connecting with others who can understand what you are going through brings encouragement and confirmation.
Since there are many people who write asking for help, it is best to post your reports and questions in our discussion forum. We read every posting and reply when needed. And there are many people writing there who have gone through the same process and they will be able to help you. Also, your reports and questions will help other people too.
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John & Carla Sherman