Feb 22, 2018

Jeff Warren on "Expanding Mind"

A good discussion of overarching qualities of contemplative practices in this episode of Expanding Mind (starting around 30:05):

Davis: What are those across-the-board qualities that you find yourself cultivating in the midst of different practices?


Warren: My teacher Shinzen ... he gives three skills, he talks about three attentional traits: concentration, clarity, and equanimity. That's kinda how I work, but I try to add in enjoyment because I want to be enjoying myself; I'm a hedonist...

Concentration... I would define it as our capacity to stay with our commitments. So, you commit to the breath, your mind wanders, you bring it back. It's the ability to commit your attention in a particular direction and hold it there. It's not about being able to penetrate or strain, it's just being able to hold your direction. And that is a great skill. It leads into the "zone", flow states, all of that is about being able to commit to a task, an activity, a person in a way that let's you get more & more one-pointed with it.

... Clarity is really the classic mindfulness skill... it's about being able to make discernments about what's actually happening in your experience. This is the progress of insight, this is the main thing I teach. This idea that we're kinda riding along, in a sense, on the surface of our experience, but there's a lot of implicit activities & implicit dynamics that are happening, that we don't see, that are influencing our reactivity & our pre-judgments about stuff.


Finally there's the Equanimity piece, which is the thing I'm obsessed about because I'm naturally so non-equanimous. The equanimity, Shinzen describes it in a particular way that I really like. His metaphor for it really landed for me. It's this idea of not pushing or pulling on your experience at all. So this kind of smoothness, this openness to experience, this absolute lack of bracing or rigidity. And when you can open in that way, that's when all the crazy, mysterious shit in a practice happens... the stuff that they don't talk about in your MBSR class.

Interesting to compare these qualities to the three trainings Daniel Ingram outlines in Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: Morality, Concentration, and Wisdom (see the discussion starting on p. 2).