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Focus in Meditation and Spiritual Practice

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Someone sent me the following message on Facebook:

I have to admit that I often find myself  NOT wanting to take responsibility, not wanting to do the practice, not wanting to do the inner work to feel whatever pain may be there. And find myself rather - jumping from place to place and trying to avoid it as much as possible.

Another thing is that I find it so incredibly difficult to focus. And I realize that maybe this seemingly lack of focus could stem also from not wanting to feel whatever needs to be felt or to think deeply about my life and take actions in a responsible way.

And here is my response:

As always your questions are good ones.

And I would offer two seemingly opposite, but actually complimentary, suggestions for the arising of resistance or a reluctance to do the work and also for your lack of focus. The first possibility when there is resistance or a lack of focus is to just try harder. You just keep bringing yourself back to the practice or object of your focus whether it is a meditative practice or a form of inquiry or inner work. If a distraction comes up, you notice it and then bring yourself back to the inner process or whatever you need to focus on. This approach requires a lot of effort and it is also bound to fail. But that does not mean it is not worthwhile. In the process of failing, you also strengthen your capacity to concentrate and focus. It is like building an inner spiritual muscle that you can then use to stay with the process longer and longer.

However it helps to know that this approach is doomed to failure, so that you do not have unrealistic expectations. It is kind of like weight lifting where you are supposed to lift the weight until your muscle simply cannot do another repetition. That is how you strengthen the physical muscles, and that is how you strengthen your inner spiritual muscle; by pushing it beyond your current capacity. And just as you can never build your physical muscle to the point where it can continue lifting a heavy weight forever, so you can just know that you will never reach a point where you can focus indefinitely. And just like even a well trained physical muscle can reach its limit fairly quickly, so too you will find that even as you build your ability to focus and persist, that most of the time you will still only be able to focus for a short while. And it will still require a lot of effort to push yourself in this way.

So this is where the other possibility comes in. When you are exhausted or unable to push yourself anymore, then there is another easier way to practice. You can just explore the distractions. If a resistance or reluctance to look within arises, then you can become curious about that. What is it like to not want to do the work? How do you know you don't want to do it? Is there a feeling in your body? Is there something you say to yourself or picture in your mind? If you had to teach me how to resist the process, how would you teach me to do it also?

Similarly, if you cannot focus on something even after you have pushed yourself to focus on it, then you can focus on the experience of not being able to focus. What is that like? Where does your attention go instead? Can you focus on not wanting to focus? Can you focus on the distractions that come up? What is the urge to do something else like? How do you even know if you are focusing or not?

Often, you will find that you can focus easily if you just let yourself focus on whatever is actually arising in this moment. Instead of trying to focus on a meditation or task, just let yourself focus more on your daydreams, feelings, restlessness, discouragement, confusion, desire or whatever is appearing in your awareness right now. And then if you cannot stay focused on that, just let your focus move onto the next experience. You may discover that there always is a focus to your awareness, but it just likes to move around a lot.

This second approach is more like stretching a muscle rather than strengthening it. When stretching a muscle, you just relax and allow the muscle to open and expand. It does not work to push or strain to try and stretch the muscle. And so sometimes it is OK to let your awareness move however it moves. Make it your practice to be very distracted whenever your effort to focus and practice fails.

These two approaches are exactly opposite. In one you push with the maximum amount of effort, and in the other you exert as little effort as possible by simply directing your awareness where it is already going. By using both of these approaches, you will develop the greatest strength, range and flexibility of awareness possible. But even that is not really the goal because your awareness already has limitless strength and flexibility. Ultimately what you discover through all of this effort is that your awareness is already fine just the way it is, and has always been perfectly fine. This is the simple realization that all of your effort is in service to. By using this "muscle" called awareness in every way possible, you eventually realize the perfect nature of awareness itself. It is not what you can do with awareness that matters, what matters is the recognition that awareness is already perfect, and that awareness is what you really are.

No Formula for Spiritual Awakening

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Someone wrote to me sharing how their life is getting more difficult and how it makes them question the wisdom of pursuing the path of inquiry. Here is my response:

There is no formula to spiritual enlightenment. It is OK to just let things fall apart, and it is OK to do something to make something better. You do learn and unfold in either case.

We had a Harvard researcher here the other day who is studying nondual awareness. In telling us how he got into studying it he described how he had created a model for all the different spiritual practices and who they work for and who they don't work for. There were a few interesting points:

1-His model does not yet explain the deepest nondual states which is why he is now studying them.
2- Within duality, if someone does the correct spiritual practice for them, then their life seems to flow and everything works out well.
3-If they do the "wrong" spiritual practice for them their life starts to fall apart.
4-Even if they do the "right" practice for them, after a while it stops working and then if they keep doing it their life falls apart.
5- Often it is when someone's life falls apart that they drop into the deeper nondual places in their being, but even this is not a formula. Sometimes their life just falls apart until they stumble upon a different approach that is now right for them and their life starts to "work" again.
6-Again his model does not yet explain spiritual enlightenment or the nondual experience nor does it yet identify the "way" to get a spiritual awakening or what ways work and don't work for specific people.

This all suggests to me that at least for now, the deepest spiritual awakenings are still purely a matter of grace. And it also suggests to stay open and curious no matter what happens. Falling apart might be the best thing that ever happens to you, and it also does not hurt to try any process or spiritual practice to see if it allows your life to work again. He has also found people who gradually shifted from process to process that seemed to allow their life to work out well for them until they then dropped off into the nondual dimension.

Talk about no formula!

Authenticity and Love

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Q: I’m no longer able to be inauthentic with my boss to try to get his approval, but I’m also concerned about losing my job.

A: In place of acting inauthentically to get approval from your boss and others, try experimenting with simply giving acceptance and attention to your boss and others. When we give love or approval to others, we are filled with a sense of loving Presence, not when we get love or approval from others.

By being very present and giving attention to everything in your experience, including your boss, it’s more likely that you’ll respond appropriately and with integrity to whatever is happening. Doing this may not guarantee that you keep your job (nothing can), but it will mean you have more integrity, wisdom, strength, acceptance, and compassion available to meet whatever does happen. Whether you stay in this job or end up looking for another, being very present and accepting will make the experience easier and more joyful for you. It will also allow you to be more effective in dealing with people, which can only help either in this job or in finding another.

Giving love can transform all of your experiences, not just your relationships at work. Love is essentially just space (acceptance) and attention (noticing). You don’t even have to like whatever you are giving this loving attention to. Just let it be the way it is, as you notice everything about it. It’s easiest to try this out with neutral or pleasant objects first. Then when you have the hang of it, try giving space and attention to things and eventually people that are annoying or difficult to be with. In addition, give loving acceptance and attention to yourself and your own reactions to others. You do not need to leave yourself out of the loving awareness, and there may even be important information about the situation that is found in your responses to others.

While it may seem paradoxical, it is in giving love that we are filled with love. When love is flowing from within you, it won’t matter as much to you how other people act or react. It’s incredibly freeing to discover that you can go ahead and give acceptance and attention to everything you encounter and that will fill you with an authentic sense of loving acceptance. (You can read more about giving love to everyone and everything in “Love Is for Giving,” which is included in this book as Appendix 2.)

Love is at the heart and core of our true nature. All the fundamental qualities of our true nature come together as love. Love is the force that connects us and fuels our desire to create, understand, experience, and ultimately merge with everything we experience. Every movement of life is the movement of love. Love is your true nature. Love is what you are.

Download Nothing Personal Today!
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Nothing Personal: Seeing Beyond the Illusion of a Separate Self by Nirmala.

Nothing Personal leads you to the experience of your true nature and helps you explore its depth. Through exposition, questions and dialogues, it brings you to a place of realization of the Truth: you are the spacious Awareness in which everything appears.


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