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On mindful study

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On mindful study
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8/16/12 3:25 PM
Hi, I have been trying to practice mindfulness and daily life, but once in a while the question pops up: how can I be mindful when studying a subject, or solving a problem, programming, browsing the web. I try to still be mindful of the body, but eventually I become a bit absorbed in the computer or subject of study, as if the mindfulness of the body was an obstacle of full concentration on what I'm doing.
Once I asked a nun about this and she told me I should try to instead try to be as concentrated on the computer as possible then.
Do you guys have any advice on this? Did the Gautama Buddha say something about this?

Thanks

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/16/12 4:03 PM as a reply to John P.
Hi John,

I once read a guy who had you could practice mindfulness even while doing calculus, but I wonder if he meant it in the way the nun said: focusing just on whatever you're doing and nothing else. I really think it's mostly impossible to be focused on the breath (or whatever) AND whatever you're doing mentally (though some people have asserted the opposite). My guess is that neurologically you can only fully do one or the other, or split your attention between both, in which case both suffer. I remember reading some meditation book that said that most people do most activities, e.g. reading, mindlessly--e.g. they're caught up in whatever thoughts they're having instead of just taking in the information. This is a long-winded way of saying that based on my reading and experience, I agree with the nun.

Thanks for the reminder! I need to do this myself! emoticon

-M

EDIT: Oh, and no, I don't remember seeing anything on this topic in any of the suttas, not to say there isn't anything.

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/16/12 4:43 PM as a reply to John P.
The symbolic manipulations and intellectual associations have to become the object of attention. Doing this without falling into an identity of "studier," "problem solver," etc., is incredibly difficult for me.

Lately I have been doing extremely elementary exercises on the Khan Academy website, veeery slowly, experiencing the volition to each manipulation. There is so much anxiety associated with this that it has been very slow going, though.

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/17/12 11:43 PM as a reply to John P.
There are two stages.

Stage 1) You try to keep at least a small part of your attention on your meditation topic (breathe/body/ect) even during your activity

I am a Goenka practioner so this would mean trying to feel some sensation or other on my body at the same time as I am working/studying/having fun.

Stage 2) After a certain level of progression there is no more efffort involved and the meditation continues on on it's own. At this point you can simply focus on the the activity you are doing.


If you are even attempting to do stage 1 that is wonderful! It is very tough to do but it is really worth it once you make it to stage 2. Stage 2 is much more relaxing.

-d

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/17/12 11:53 PM as a reply to John P.
Did the Gautama Buddha say something about this?


Yes he did! It is in the Satipatthana Sutta.


Samahito sampajano, sato Buddhassa savako;

vedana ca pajanati, vedanananca sambhavam.

Yattha ceta nirujjhanti, magganca khayagaminam;

vedananam khaya bhikkhu, nicchato parinibbuto'ti.


meaning:


A follower of the Buddha, with concentration, awareness

and constant thorough understanding of impermanence,

knows with wisdom the sensations, their arising, their

cessation and the path leading to their end.




Notice he says "constant thorough understanding of impermanence".
This is the equivalent of your "be mindful at all times" or
"have your mind on your meditation topic at all times"


Lastly I want to say this is the most important thing anyone can communicate to you about meditation. Never lost your moment...

Know this truth to the exclusion of every other piece of dhamma knowledge you know. Forget suttas, forget teachers, forget jhana, know only "constant awareness".

If you do this you will travel at a very fast speed.

Here is Buddha talking concretely about how fast one may travel:

Verily, monks, whosoever practices these four foundations of mindfulness in this manner for seven years, then one of these two fruits may be expected by him: highest knowledge (arahantship) here and now, or if some remainder of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.[28]


(I should add that this quote only applies to a certain class of people which I will not get into. There are different classes of people with different ranges of ability to progress)


-d

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/18/12 6:33 AM as a reply to fivebells ..
Have you found out the reason for the anxiety associated with doing even extremely elementary exercises?

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/18/12 11:55 AM as a reply to Change A..
Psychologically, I think the anxiety is present in any socially conditioned behavior, something my parents unconsciously transmitted before I can remember through their reactions to my errors and misbehaviors, reactions which were fairly moderate by the standards of their parents but arose from a similar anxiety. For a couple of decades I found a way to align/channel the anxiety with practices leading to pretty stellar academic performance, and deeply conditioned some destructive intellectual habit patterns in the process. I don't think this is unusual. I see this kind of anxiety all over academia. I think the reason I'm seeing it even in elementary exercises is that I'm slowing my performance enough to see the anxiety arising. Also, because I am not really focusing on the intellectual content and just letting the calculations run, I still have a relatively high error rate, and this is leading an anxious association with the practice.

Practice-wise, I push too hard and freeze the whole mess in place. It's a conundrum... Currently I try to precede the exercises with 30 minutes of metta and just do a few minutes of intellectual-effort meditation, but the conditioning runs away with me. I realize this is incongruent with some of the advice I've given here, but I must admit this anxiety is my slave-master and scourge and I want it dead, dead, dead. More metta is needed. emoticon

The capacity to slow the intellectual process down by a factor of 100 or 1000 and form the volition behind each step is recent and something I've taken for progress but writing this makes me think maybe instead of very slowly doing something which triggers anxiety, perhaps I should practice doing anxiety itself very slowly about really ridiculous things. Hmm...

Anyway, all critical feedback is welcome. I am a bit stuck, and fixing this is the gold ring for me. (I know, I know, bad practice attitude.)

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/18/12 12:38 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
fivebells .:
The capacity to slow the intellectual process down by a factor of 100 or 1000 and form the volition behind each step is recent and something I've taken for progress but writing this makes me think maybe instead of very slowly doing something which triggers anxiety, perhaps I should practice doing anxiety itself very slowly about really ridiculous things. Hmm...


What I have done in the past is that while doing an activity that causes anxiety, I keep the activity in the background but keep the anxiety in the foreground of awareness.

Your plan sounds to be good and let me know how it goes and what approach you take.

My theory about the anxiety that is caused while studying mindfully is that one is not aware of the surroundings while one is completely immersed. Can you try studying while being mindful of studying as well as your immediate environment and see if you still get anxious to the same level or not?

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/19/12 2:18 PM as a reply to Change A..
Aman A.:
My theory about the anxiety that is caused while studying mindfully is that one is not aware of the surroundings while one is completely immersed. Can you try studying while being mindful of studying as well as your immediate environment and see if you still get anxious to the same level or not?


Thanks for the suggestion, I will experiment. I have to say, I am a bit skeptical because I can't imagine intellectual engagement without a collapse of attention, particularly when it comes to creativity/problem solving. Do you (or anyone else) have direct experience with the practice you're suggesting?

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/19/12 3:05 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
fivebells .:
Thanks for the suggestion, I will experiment. I have to say, I am a bit skeptical because I can't imagine intellectual engagement without a collapse of attention, particularly when it comes to creativity/problem solving. Do you (or anyone else) have direct experience with the practice you're suggesting?


Yes I have that is how I could suggest it. I keep some percent of attention on studying, some on being mindful of studying and some on the immediate physical environment. In the beginning, you might try to move your attention from one to another in case attention collapses with intellectual engagement.

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/19/12 8:51 PM as a reply to Change A..
Thanks again. It's leading to much coarser awareness, but seems to be moving things in a good direction.

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/19/12 10:01 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
You are welcome. This kind of practice can be expanded to include all other activities in life, not just studying, and will lead towards more and more open awareness. As it includes the immediate physical environment, there is no chance of it devolving into an ASC where one may start to sound mystical/spiritual.

RE: On mindful study
Answer
8/19/12 10:20 PM as a reply to Change A..
Yes, it's even a sort of obvious thing to do, I have just always associated the concentration needed for study with collapse of attention. I even tried it before, but took the collapses I observed as a sign of that possibly bogus need.