This article was called How To Kill A Thought In A Good Way: More On Mindfulness, in  Forbes Magazine. I don’t find the focus of it nearly as interesting as the quotes from the neuroscientist (and meditation practitioner) who is interviewed, Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, who studies the effect of mindfulness practice on the brain at Yale University. Meditation can be approached in such a dogged way and I found this brief suggestion of “pure fascinated attention”… well… fascinating.

Dr Brewer is really affirming what so many of the Tibetan lineage teachers have been touching on in my study of the Dharma, for example, “practice, enjoy it!” (Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche) and he gives a really accessible instruction of how to approach meditation practice, with the open curious mind that my teacher Pema Chodron emphasises in her teaching and demonstrates as she walks through the world, opening closets and asking questions about the world as she meets it.

Something about his description of a child’s mind “pure fascinated attention” strikes me as a very very helpful approach to meditation practice. It also reminds me of Dan Siegel’s description, at the beginning of The Mindful Brain, of his first meditation retreat. Siegel, who has written extensively about interpersonal neuropsychology, brought this same attitude, of “pure fascinated attention” to examining his own mind while on retreat.

This might sound obvious until you realise that most people spend most of our time at meditation retreats, caught up in discursive thought, caught up in the mental chatter about food or other people, about ourselves or our current situation: complaining, wanting, rejecting, arguing, obsessing, lusting, criticising, ruminating etc. with varying degrees of immersion in the drama, frustration and boredom of our lives. Cultivating this attitude of “fascinated attention” towards our own experience, which scientists as well as children seem to have available to them as a common state of mind, could be really helpful to the rest of us who have spent so many years becoming habituated to aggression, craving and numbing out. This instruction is something I am going to try to remember to remind myself at the beginning, middle and end of practice, and in everyday life. Just reorienting to this attitude and encouraging the “fascinated attention” over and over, will begin to re-wire our brains so that it becomes a new habit of mind, a helpful habit of mind and will change the brain itself.

“The way I started, and what I recommend, is to go and find something that is naturally interesting that can draw your curiosity in,” says Brewer. “This does take practice it’s not a five-minutes-at-your-desk endeavor. What we’re after is getting the mind back into a curious, playful state. Think about how children are fascinated by everything. We first need that fascination BACK, and then this can with time take the place of worry and negative chatter.”

Start by picking something that might have fascinated you when you were a kid, he says. “I’m standing here looking at bark of a tree, for example. I can become totally drawn in to pattern, color, texture – it’s actually really easy to get sucked in. So you have to build that ‘curiosity’ muscle – it’s just like doing push-ups – and it takes some time. Then, when you have some experience in this mindset of curiosity, and you’re back at your desk, you can approach your own (negative) thoughts with the exact same curiosity.”

“This is pure, fascinated attention,” says Brewer, and this is what helps us pull ourselves out of the usual thought processes. You can apply this “muscle” to everything, once it’s been built. And this may be what mindfulness is all about.

“It’s like the old adage from the pali cannon: ‘I’ve long been tricked, duped by this mind,’” he says. But we can learn to not let the brain get the better of us, simply by reminding it of a better way, and practicing it intentionally. “It took me years to do this! My practice has only taken off in the last two years. What took off was when I changed my practice – becoming curious and fascinated with my thought patterns instead of trying to beat them down. By diving in with curiosity instead of pushing them away, they became much less compelling and less of a problem. They don’t grab me nearly as much anymore.It doesn’t have to be serious and grim. It should be joyful and playful.”

click here for the full article: How To Kill A Thought In A Good Way: More On Mindfulness – Forbes.

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