Podcast Episode 28: Self-Directed Attention Unbound

In this episode, we discuss the real purpose of the Self-Directed Attention Exercise, which is to develop your control over your attention. And we explain how simple and strict the practice is and how its full benefits are missed when you try to use it to make yourself feel good, to quiet your mind, or anything else like that.

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The Search for Identity Is a Call for Self-Inquiry

Identity: (1) The character or personality of an individual:  unity and continuity of personality; (2) one’s perception of the sameness and persistence of one’s own individual personality:  sense of self. (Merriam-Webster)

Before you begin reading this post, please Google the phrase “the search for identity”. You will be shown links to almost 43 million pages that approach the issue.

It would seem that identity, and the search for it, is the heart and soul of being human. If that’s the case, how can it be that such a critical component of being human is considered to be such a mystery by so many? What is identity, after all? Where is it to be found?

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The Difference Between Self-Directed Attention and Mindfulness Meditation

Today I’m going to make one more attempt to answer questions about the similarity between what we call Self-Directed Attention and Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation. I can understand why there would be some confusion about the apparent similarity of the two practices, but they are actually diametrically opposite to each other.

When I speak of Mindfulness Meditation, I am referring to the practice that originated from Tibetan Buddhism. What I say here may apply to other versions of Buddhism, but I have personal experience with Tibetan Buddhism and I understand the outlook and the purpose of their practices, so that’s what I can speak about.

I am going to try to state as clearly as I can what the purpose of Tibetan Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation is, and then compare that purpose with the purpose of the practice that we call Self-Directed Attention. And from now on, I’m going to say just Buddhism.

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A Liberating Insight

With very few exceptions, pretty much everybody on earth—butcher, baker, candlestick maker, rich, poor, beggar, and thief—each and every human being on the planet is at least as confused, fearful, miserable and afflicted as you are now or have been at some point.

Everybody on earth is at least as blameless as you are and as justified in their actions and beliefs as you are. Nobody on earth is in complete control of what they think, and want, and resist. Not even you.

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Misidentification

According to Buddhist texts and most of the wisdom teachings, misidentification is the sole cause of human psychological misery. Those teachings tell us that all personal identification whatsoever is misidentification, and they therefore advise us to seek a state that is clear of all limiting ideas about our true nature.

This is a perfectly understandable misunderstanding of reality, and no cause for blame. Truthfully, those who presented us with these teachings were courageous pioneers in the continuing effort to understand human being and human misery.

But it turns out that it is not identification per se that is the problem. It is the identification with a diseased personality that is the true cause of all the trouble. And that problem turns out to be hard to understand, but really easy to fix.

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The Period of Recovery

The root cause of most human psychological misery is the fear of life. This fear of life is a psychological autoimmune disease that arises in reaction to fearful experience very early in life, long before we learn that we have a mind–long before we are even conscious of ourselves as individual persons. The fear of life is an unseen assumption that life is inherently dangerous and profoundly untrustworthy. And it is upon this invisible foundation of fear and distrust that our minds develop over time.

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The Mind

My understanding of the mind and its role in human life may strike you as strange, but I promise that it is entirely consistent with everything I have seen in the current scientific literature on these matters. So please focus first on understanding fully what I am saying before trying to decide whether you agree with me or not.

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