Group October 5th 2017

Our opening practice was drawn from Hanson's 'Buddha's Brain' (p 201) entitled 'The Meditation', about which Hanson writes, 'The Buddha offered a kind of road map for contemplative practice: steady the mind, quiet it, bring it to singleness, and concentrate it.' Following the practice, through enquiry, we opened our reflection around supports ('factors') for mindfulness and concentration (again using Hanson's guidance) - including acknowledging the challenges of meditation (which tests attention in order to strengthen it). The five factors of concentration, according to Hanson, are: Applied attention (initial directing of attention to an object, e.g., the breath); Sustained attention: staying focused on the object, such as remaining aware of the entire inhalation; Rapture: intense interest in the object; Joy: gladdening of the heart, including happiness, contentment and tranquility; Singleness of mind: experiencing everything as a whole, with few thoughts, equanimity and a strong sense of being present.  

Within our enquiry we looked at seeming resistance to certain concepts, e.g., that of rapture, discussing how our experience, conditioning and knowledge strongly and uniquely influence our reactions to words and ideas, but also noting how we can also open ourselves up through curiosity to possibility and experimentation.

Hanson's work includes the referencing of neuroscientific evidence to demonstrate how our brains can be trained/ rewired through eg meditation practice, and he suggests different ways to help the brain steady the mind, sometimes postulating what is happening within the brain itself.

So these are some of the approaches recommended by Hanson: 1) keeping attention on the object by e.g., imagining a little guardian living in the anterior congulate cortex (ACC), the part of the brain involved in applying and sustaining attention. 2) filtering out distractions by e.g, starting a breath meditation by exploring sound, which paradoxically, by inviting distractions in, encourages them to move out. 3) managing the desire for stimulation by e.g., breaking the breath into small parts - inhalation, exhalation and pause between - so there's more to notice, or alternatively, doing e.g. walking meditation, which provides more stimulus. 4) encouraging rapture and joy - such positive feelings help concentrate attention by increasing the transmission of dopamine to the brain's working memory - i.e., encouraging happiness within a practice can actually help concentration! (n.b. different words and phrases may resonate better with us than others 5) singleness of mind - unification of awareness, involving deepening absorption in the object of attention, Hanson suggests may be associated with high-frequency gamma waves seen in experienced meditators.  Other ways to encourage this singleness of mind include nuturing a continuitiy of here-and-now presence throughout our day.

We closed our session with a short private reflection on our intentions for practice.