What is meditation?
Let's begin with a scientific definition. Scientific definition: meditation refers to a family of mental training practices that are designed to familiarize the practitioner with specific types of mental processes. The key words here mental training practices. It turns out meditation is no magic. It is just practice. You may ask, so this is a scientific definition? But meditation has been around for thousands of years. Do traditional peoples feel the same way? It turns out the answer is yes.
For example, the Tibetan word for meditation is "gom". And "gom" means "to familiarize". Which basically exactly matches the scientific definition of meditation. The Pali tradition which is at least 2500 years old, they refer to meditation as "Bhavana". And "Bhavana" literally means cultivation as in cultivating the soil. So, they see meditation as cultivating qualities the same way you cultivate wheat and rice. So, even for them, even for those people in the Pali tradition from 2600 years ago, they don't see meditation as magic. To them, it's just work, cultivation, practice.
Which leads us to our first question. If we're doing training, what are we training? Specifically, we're training two qualities, which you see on the screen right now. The first quality is attention, and everybody knows what attention is. And as usual, William James has the best definition and you see on the screen right now.
The second quality that you train is meta-attention which is attention of attention. What does that even mean? What is attention of attention? So, a very simple way to describe this is this. Meta-attention is the ability to know when the attention has wandered away. So, you focus, you put attention on one thing, it wanders away, something knows, something clicks us, "oh, I've lost it," and that something, that quality is meta-attention. And those two, attention and meta-attention are both trainable qualities. And we're training them in this class.
My friends, I'm going to share a secret with you, a very powerful insight which is that meta-attention is the secret of concentration. What does that mean? Let me give you an illustration. Riding a bicycle. As you're riding a bicycle, how do you keep the bicycle balanced as you're tipping left and right? The way you keep your bicycle balanced is with micro-recoveries. So, for example, you find yourself tipping a little bit to the right, you just recover to the left. You find yourself tipping a bit to the left, you recover bit to the right. And if you recover quickly and often enough you get the effect off continuous balance, right?
Similarly, a similar mechanism is at work in concentration. If every time your attention wanders away, you recover your attention quickly and often enough, you get the effect of continuous attention. And that my friends is concentration. So, meta- attention is the secret of concentration and the good news is once you're done with SIY your concentration will improve just because of this and that alone is worth your money.
So, the next question. You train in attention you train in meta-attention, you're good at both. And then what? What does it do for you? Here's what it does for you. Imagine the mind like a snow globe as you see on the screen. Imagine that a snow globe is constantly agitated. What does it look like? It looks white all the time, right? However, imagine you stop agitating the snow globe. Just stop. What happens? The snow in the snow globe starts to settle. And then after a while you get a quality of the snow globe that is calm and clear at the same time, right?
It's the same as the mind. The mind is constantly agitated. However, with the power of your attention and your meta-attention you can settle the mind. And once the mind settles, it's like the settling of the snow globe. The mind becomes calm and clear at the same time. That is the power of attention. But wait it gets better. When the mind is calm and clear, there is a third quality of mind that's not captured by this analogy. And the third quality is happiness, joy.
Which makes no sense. If you think about it. Why should a calm and clear mind automatically be happy? For myself, even after I was able to bring about this mind on-demand, it didn't make sense to me. I couldn't figure it out. So, I asked one of the Western's most top experts in this topic on the topic of relaxed concentration and his name is Alan Wallace and he says, "it's all very simple. It's because happiness is the default state of mind." So, when the mind is calm and clear at the same time all they are doing is returning the mind to default. And the default is happiness.
And if you fully understood what I just said, my friends, this is a life changing insight. Imagine if you understand that and you can access the mind that happiness is a default state, it means that happiness is just being.
That happiness is not something you pursue. Happiness is something you allow. It's not something you try to catch.
It's something that is always there, in your life, in your mind, at all times and all you have to do is to allow it. And the simple way of allowing it is just to calm the mind. And that my friends, for me at least, was a life changing insight. This literally changed my life.
So, the idea of the mind as a snow globe. That is actually a 2600-year-old analogy. So, the old analogy, the classical analogy is the mind as a pot of water with lots of sediments and you've stopped agitating the pot and the sediments settle.
There is an alternative analogy which is more fitting that modern people are more used to. And that's the idea of meditation as exercise. So, what are the similarities? The first similarity is that in both meditation and exercise you can see both of them as acquiring new abilities. So, for example, if you go to a gym, right. You're acquiring strength. If you go running on a treadmill, you're acquiring endurance. Similarly, in meditation, if you want to, you can think of it as acquiring mental abilities, right?
With meditation I can learn to have clearer mind. I can learn to have calmer mind. I can learn to increase my concentration and so on.
So that's the first similarity. The second similarity is that in both cases, so for exercise for example. And first is very hard. Well, in fact the first week is very easy. The first week, "this exercise thing is great. I want to start it." After the first week it gets very hard. However, if you persist on, after eight or nine weeks you'll discover something. You discover your life changing. You discover that you have more energy, you discover you are stronger, you discover you're healthier, you don't get sick so often, you feel great about yourself. And you even look better in the mirror. And in other words, a quality of life change substantially and once that happens you cannot not workout anymore. Even if you do not want to. It's so compelling, you have to do this.
And it's the same with meditation. The first week is easy. The second week it gets kind of hard, but if you persist on, after seven or eight weeks your quality of life will change so much. You feel better, you get happier a lot more, you get calmer, people love you more and so on. You cannot not do this anymore. The change in the quality of life is so compelling and after that point you are driven by the quality of life. That's the second similarity.
The third similarity, which is I think very important so pay attention to this. The third similarity is the growth in both cases. Growth arises from meeting resistance. What does that mean? If you're doing weights, for example, every time you are resisting the dumbbells, gravity, you are growing your muscles just a little bit, right? And so that's how you grow.
In the case of meditation, it's the same. Every time your mind wanders away and then bring it back. Every time you bring it back it's like strengthening the muscles of meta-attention. And if you understand that insight it leads to a very important insight which is there is no way to do this wrong, right?
When you're doing dumbbells for example, you never say, "Oh, I'm succeeding. I'm failing. I'm succeeding, I'm failing," because that sounds absurd. However, when you're doing meditation you do that. Your mind wanders away you say "Oh, I'm failing. I suck at this." It turns out you're not failing. It turns out this thing that your mind wanders away and you bring it back, this is the training. Every time you do that you are strengthening your muscles, the mental muscles, muscles of attention. Therefore, there is no way to do this wrong. This is important to know.
So, what's the empirical evidence and what does science have to say to support all of these practices and ideas that we've been presenting today?
There was a pioneering study done about a decade ago by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Richard Davidson and this was an interesting study because it's the first study that was done in a biotech company. It was a randomized control study where they randomly assigned workers, biotech workers, into two groups. One group was a control group and the other group received mindfulness-based stress reduction for the standard format for eight weeks.
And they did several different investigations of different dependent variables but what's shown here is a very fascinating result which is that after the course was finished and after the control group was finished or actually during, they provided the influenza virus and they looked at what was the immune body, the immune response to this influenza virus. And as you can see here in the gray bar there was a much larger increase in the immune response to the influenza virus in the group that received the mindfulness meditation training compared to the control group. So, that was a fascinating demonstration of the mind body connection. That some kind of training that reduced stress and changed mental processes was able to translate into an enhanced immune response to a very common thing, the common cold, the influenza virus. That was one finding.
Another very fascinating part of this study was that they also measured using EEG left and right prefrontal cortical activity. And they found the people who had greater left hemispheric or left prefrontal cortical neural activity showed a much greater immune response to the influenza virus, demonstrating a neural substrate or a neural mechanism that might help to explain the connection between the immune response and the meditation practice. So, this was a fascinating contribution that has led to many other kinds of studies that are ongoing today.
Another piece of evidence from a very different kind of task, a computer task, that looked at one specific aspect of attention. It's called the attentional blink. And simply put, as you see here on the slide, this is a task where you'll see a series of letters, letters, letters, letters, and then suddenly you see a number. The brain picks up that number and attentional resources are allocated to processing that number. And it takes a while for the brain to reset, so to speak, before it can consciously process or process another stimulus, another number. If the duration is quite short on the order of a couple of hundred milliseconds between the first number and the second number there is a blink. Meaning that the brain is not able to attend to the second stimulus. This is a very standard attentional task, computer task, that's done.
Heleen A. Slagter and Richard Davidson, again just a few years ago, thought let's see if a mindfulness meditation or meditation training might actually influence the ability to reset and allow attention to be allocated to the second stimulus more quickly thereby eliminating this blink. And that's exactly what they found. They actually found that after meditation training, people were more able to actually perceive the second stimulus suggesting that there was a change in the temporal dynamics of the brain systems that control at least one aspect of attention. Fascinating demonstration that mindfulness meditation or that meditation practice can actually influence the temporal neural dynamics.
Another study is actually several studies other known benefits and there are many others, Antoine Lutz, also from Richard Davidson's lab, has demonstrated that with meditation training there are changes in what's called the gamma brain waves which are very fast oscillating waves on the order of 40 hertz on the cortex and that this has been linked to an enhancement in memory and in learning. Another piece of evidence that suggests that even specific psychological processes can be influenced, and it might be through changes in gamma wave intensity.
Another very interesting study, also a very practical application, was the use of mindfulness in helping as an adjunct to help people who were suffering from skin disease specifically psoriasis. So, the standard intervention is ultraviolet light. And so, again it was a randomized controlled trial where one group received treatment as usual, ultraviolet light therapy, the second group received the ultraviolet light therapy plus a mindfulness meditation training. And they found that the group that received the meditation training healed faster. Again, demonstrating a mind body immune response connection.
And then lastly, another study that has been very influential is a study by Sarah Lazar indicating changes in the rate of cortical thickness decay. So, the normative pattern is as we age, the cortex or the grey matter cells begin to dwindle as shown on the slide. As we get older, our brain becomes smaller and we have less and less grey matter in different parts of the brain. What she did is a cross-sectional study demonstrating that people who had long-term meditation practice had a much slower rate of decay of grey matter cells which was fascinating.
And it demonstration... Again mind bodies, possible mechanisms might include that these are people who because of their meditation training had less stress or less stress reactivity and therefore had less oxidative stress or less damage to their grey matter cells. This remains to be demonstrated in prospective studies but again just several pieces of evidence that of some of the effects of meditation training.
Now, when we engage in a focused type of meditation practice on a given object, what are we actually doing from moment to moment to moment? So, what you see here projected on the slide is a process model of mindfulness meditation. Now, the first step is that we bring some level of intentionality. This might be that I simply want to reduce my stress, I would like to increase my wellbeing, or I'm interested in doing these practices because I'm curious to use this as a tool for self-exploration. There are many different levels of intentionality.
So, we pick an object. It could be anything. In this case we might choose the breath. It's always present, always available. We follow the breath and if we are fortunate, we begin to feel some changes in the level of concentration, perhaps enhanced sense of calm, flow, etc. But inevitably, we will have moments of distraction and the distraction is very very important in terms of the process of learning from mindfulness meditation.
We might become distracted because we begin to ruminate or spin on positive thoughts or negative thoughts or self-deprecation or negative self-beliefs, etc. We might worry, we might fantasize. And the key thing then is to re-gain our attention, to re-orient our attention, release from the distraction and re-engage with the object of meditation, in this case the breath. Now, at that moment, this is another very important juncture. The attitude that we bring to that moment. We might at that moment become very self-critical, "Oh my goodness I can't focus. I can't concentrate. I'm never going to be good at this. Why am I even bothering to do meditation?" and I might give up.
Another way to approach that same experience is very different. It would be really about tenderness towards the self. A sense of kindness or even curiosity about what are these things that are pulling my attention away? How can I simply note them, acknowledge, release, and return without engaging in any extra elaboration, evaluation, negative judgment? This I would suggest is the basis for kindness, perhaps even empathy. Understanding how other people are so caught up in these more negative self-critical processes. And then you bring your attention back to the breath and you start again. So, this is a process model that might be occurring on the order of seconds or perhaps even minutes. So, further considerations about the notion of no-self and how this plays out in different domains.
So, in the realm of clinical psychology or clinical psychotherapy, the notion of self and no self is very important when working with a client. So, one practical thing is that one of the biggest sources of suffering in psychotherapy and working with clients is a distorted view of the self.
And we have plenty of evidence of a very clear set pattern of views of self and beliefs about the self that are the source of tremendous amount of suffering. Now of course these are evaluations, judgments, interpretations. So, one practical view or understanding of how to apply no self in this particular context, clinical practice, is helping the client understand that the way they view the self might be distorted, not valid or even inaccurate or even un-beneficial. And by slowly getting to a point where they view the self is a constructed narrative, ever-changing, storyline, a basis for making sense of one's experiences, this begins to free up the sticky mind that holds onto self as if it were solid, real, independent. And this creates the opportunity for freedom in ever larger doses. So, that's one practical place where we can apply these notions of self and no self.
From a neuroscientific perspective, there's been an explosion of research, empirical research, on brain systems that are the basis for different modes of self-processing. So, there are midline structures that are very important that serve as the basis in which is instantiated, self-referential, conceptual, linguistic based views of the self. So, these are self-concepts and the brain actually shows this in a very clear clear pattern.
What's interesting is that there are other modes of self-processing that are not conceptual, linguistic, that are more sensory, visceral, that are based on anterior insula where there's a sensory experience and somatosensory cortex where there's a sense, felt sense of the self of the body. So, this week you could think of as a felt embodied self and there's likely other modes of self-processing that are occurring in the brain for which we don't really have labels yet. And it's likely, this Is more theoretical, that we are probably shifting across multiple modes of self all the time even on the order of milliseconds. And that part of the practice is to recognize which mode one is in, if one can, to slow down the process and see that these are all different modes of self but there is no actual inherent concretes self-embedded anywhere in the brain. So, that's a really powerful contribution from neuroscience to this practice and understanding of the mechanisms of distorted healthy or healthy sense of self.
One more area that's very important to consider is, so how does this contribute to wellbeing or optimizing performance in the workplace? Well, most of you, if you stay in a company, as you advance in your career, you're going to become managers, executives, VPs. At some point, you'll have many other people reporting to you. One consideration is that the ability to modulate the grasping of this conceptual self or releasing this conceptual self too some degree, allows us to actually have more space to consider the other. You can think about this as cognitive perspective taking which is very much dependent on areas of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex other areas and even empathy. The degree to which the grasping at one's own self releases or relinquishes even a little bit, literally creates the ability to take the perspective of others, to consider what others feel or what it's like to be in their shoes.
And so, neuroscience also, in this case, is providing the neural basis, the neural substrates, for all of these specific practices, perspective taking, considering others. And this becomes super important because when we know that as you climb in the corporate ladder the ability to have these emotional intelligence skills, empathy, emotional awareness, emotion regulation, are directly related to being a stellar, optimized person in the workplace, a leader.
Meditation posture. What should your posture be like when you meditate?
So, on the screen right now you are looking at something called the traditional seven-point posture. And the seven-point posture are: back straight like an arrow, legs crossed in lotus position and so on. You notice that we labeled the slide, "Blah blah". And the reason we do that is that I'm going to ask you to ignore everything you see on the screen right now because there are only two important things to remember when it comes to meditation posture which is to be alert and relaxed at the same time.
Any posture that allows you to be alert and relaxed at the same time is the correct posture for meditation. So straight away you find boundaries of what not to do. For example, you don't want to hunch because it's not good for alertness and you don't want to stiffen your back because it's not good for relaxation. It's something in between. Find out what it is for yourself. Doesn't matter what it is as long as you are alert and relaxed.
The seven-point posture you see on the screen, this is the traditional posture which over thousands of years people found to be optimal for maintaining alert and relaxed for a very long time. Having said that, we discovered that in teaching this that this posture doesn't necessarily work for modern people at the beginning because we have different posture habits. For example, we don't sit on the floor, we tend to sit on the sofa and because of that, this posture is initially difficult for most beginners. Therefore, we suggest that you just find any posture you like which allows you to be alert and relaxed and just know that there is a posture which other people found to be optimal which you may or may not want to experiment with as your practice matures.
If you like, there is a very nice way to remember this posture which is suggested by Sogyal Rinpoche and he's says to sit like a majestic mountain. So, the idea is you pretend you are a majestic mountain, your favorite mountain. Pretend you're Mount Fuji. "I am Mount Fuji. People look up to me," right? And if you sit in that posture, in a dignified majestic posture, very likely this posture is also the one that allows you to be alert and relaxed at the same time. So, if you like this, give you a try. I may or may not work but it's kind of fun to try. It's kind of fun to be your favorite mountain.
The eyes. What do you do with the eyes? Do you open or close your eyes in meditation? And the answer is yes and no and both and neither. Which is a funny answer but let me tell you what that means. So, what is important actually is to understand the pros and cons, upsides and downsides of opening or closing eyes. And if you think about it, they're very obvious. If you close your eyes, you do not get distracted however you fall asleep. If you keep your eyes open, you don't fall asleep, but you get distracted. Therefore, what are the solutions?
It turns out there are two compromises on two different dimensions. There is a spatial compromise and there's a temporal compromise. The temporal compromise is to keep your eyes closed until you feel sleepy and then you open your eyes until you feel distracted and then you close your eyes again. So, open and close, if you want.
The spatial compromise is to keep your eyes half open like a slit, just gazing down at nothing particular and having your eyes open enough for light to come in so you don't fall asleep but closed enough to not get distracted. And this is a tradition posture for the eye which is why if you go to like a Buddhist temple, for example a Buddhist temple, you will see the statue of Buddha, the Buddha has slit eyes is for that reason because that is found over thousands of years to be the optimal way to keep your eyes during meditation. And once again it's kind of hard for beginners so just experiment with what works for you knowing the pros and cons of each approach.
What if you experience distraction? What if there's a thought or sound that distracts you?
Three things, very easy. The first is to acknowledge, knowledge I am being distracted by the sound. That's all, just acknowledging. The second is to experience the distractor without judging, as "Ah, there's a sound." Experience it, that's all. And the third thing, let it go. Let it go. And if it doesn't want to be let go, it's okay. Let it be for as long as it wants to be. And then let it go. That is all.
What if you have a discomfort? What if you've got itching? Very similar things. So, the first is acknowledge, I am being distracted by an itch. The second. Okay, let me suggest this. We suggest not to react for three breaths, five breaths, whatever number of breaths that you define for yourself. Do not react automatically. Why? Because in real life, the space between stimulus and reaction, between that is choice. So, therefore the idea is to learn to train your brain not to react automatically to stimulus. And once you are able to do that then the choice, there's a space available for choice becomes bigger for you over time. And this thing is a very good and simple practice.
Where there is a distractor don't automatically react for a few breaths. And then if you really have to react, if you really have to scratch, what do you do? Remember this. Remember that in this meditation it's about mindfulness. It is not about stillness. Therefore, as long as you maintain mindfulness, everything you do is fair game.
So, therefore, if you have to move, I suggest you maintain mindfulness over three factors, three qualities. The first is mindfulness of intention. The intention that I want to scratch. I'm going to scratch. The second if mindfulness of the movement and the third is mindfulness of the sensation. OK? Three things: mindfulness of intention, movement, and sensation. And as long as you maintain mindfulness, even in movement, even in scratching. it's all fair game.
Finally, if you do not remember a single thing I've told you in the past 15 minutes, just remember one thing, Jon Kabat-Zinn says of meditation, "Meditation is breathing as if your life depends on it." That is all. If you remember breathing as if your life depends on it, you will understand meditation and you can forget everything I just told you in the past 15 minutes.
My friends, I want to explore the topic of self. And before I begin, I want to remind all of us that this topic is an advanced topic. And because it's an advanced topic, I want to say that everything I say to you is a suggestion or a provocative way of saying it is, everything I say to you is BS until you with your own practice either falsify it or verify it for yourself and if you verify it then it's not BS. Otherwise it's just BS.
I begin this topic by making a statement. And a statement is that our boundary of self, our representation of self in the brain are not as straightforward as we think it is. In fact, they're fairly fluid. Let me give you some examples. For example, if I asked Philip, "Imagine that you're sitting there," certain parts of his brain will activate. If instead I say, "Philip, imagine your body is sitting there," a different part of the brain gets activated.
So, at least for that quality, how the brain sees me and how the brain sees my body is represented differently in different parts of the brain.
Another data point is this. It comes from studies from phantom limb syndrome. So, these are people who have, for whatever reason, lost a limb. Mostly in war like Vietnam, Vietnam vets and so on or in car accidents. They lost a limb and they have phantom limbs. So, even though their limb, the hand is amputated they still feel that there's a hand. They still feel that the hand is in pain or is itching. And it gets weirder. So, when a person with phantom limb feels that the hand is in pain or the arm is in pain, obviously the arm is no longer there so the person cannot massage himself, however if a person massages the arm of somebody else, he actually feels better. Which is very weird if you think about it.
How does it work? The theory behind it is this. The theory is that there are parts of our brain called mirror neurons and if we experience pain same neurons light up. If we see other people experiencing pain or we perceive they are experiencing pain, same neurons light up.
However, why is it that for you, you know you can discern whether I'm feeling pain or another person's feeling pain. The way it works is that your body sends a signal to you and say, “No, I'm fine. I'm fine. It's not me. This pain is somebody else." So, therefore when your arm is amputated there is no arm to send a signal to, to suppress that part of the brain. There's no signal that says, "it's not me." And therefore, it's the same with massages and therefore if person with amputated limb massages somebody else's limb he feels better. So, at least the boundary of self is not straightforward, and it gets even weirder.
Once again, a phantom limb patient, for example, his phantom limb is in pain. So, his arm was amputated, and he had this feeling that his arm, his hand is tightly clenched and it's in spasm and is very very painful. And unfortunately, since the arm is already amputated, he could not just open this. How do you treat this, right? Drugs and everything didn't work for this guy. And it turns out there's a three-dollar solution, which is fascinating.
So, the researcher in this case, went to I think Wal-Mart or something, and bought a three dollar mirror and he put a mirror in front of the patient in this position where he can see his right arm through the mirror as if he's looking at his left arm, his left hand and consciously, this person's not on drugs, he's not hypnotized, consciously he knows that I am just opening my right hand and my left hand is reflecting it. Even though he knows that consciously, he was able to trick his body. He was able to open up his right hand and it was like, "Ah! I feel my left hand has relieved. Is opened up now." This is fascinating.
The idea that this is self, and this is where self begins and this is where self ends not necessarily static, not necessarily straight forward. And therefore, I'm going to suggest this. When it comes to self, I suggest or we suggest, that self is a mental construct. That self is a construct that the brain, sorry the mind, continuously creates in reaction to stimulus of thoughts.
Whenever there's a stimulus or a thought, the brain reacts by creating a sense of self to experience the sensation of the thought. Therefore, in theory at least, there is a state of mind that is so calm that the mind does not feel the need to create self, to construct self. And in that mind, self doesn't arise. And there's no self.
Why are we raising this topic? It seems theoretical. It seems kind of fun, but it doesn't sound very useful does it? Well, the reason we are raising this topic is because a lot of our suffering in life comes from the idea of self. And therefore, if we are able to see the fluidity of self, if you're able to see where self is constructed in the mind, then it creates a possibility of some liberation or some relief from suffering.
Let me tell you what that means, for example. Every one of us, most of us I say, in our adult life come to this conclusion that my body is not me. And when you come to this conclusion you find a certain level of freedom from suffering. And then some of us made a very important discovery. We discover that our thoughts are my thoughts are not me. My thoughts are merely thoughts, they are not me. And once you find the fluidity of self, once you find that thoughts are not me, you become free from thoughts. Then there's a level of freedom that you they never discovered before. Specifically, freedom from suffering arising from thoughts.
And I want to suggest there are a couple more levels of freedom. One more level is the idea that my sensation and my perceptions are not me. And I think once you reach that level there is another level of liberty from suffering.
To be an all rounded athlete. It's good to have two qualities. It's good to have strength and endurance at the same time. Therefore, an optimal athlete spends time both training in cardio exercises and strength exercises. And one way to do this is something we call circuit training.
So, the idea is this. I just run it on a track. So, you get cardio training and then we all drop and do pushups and do resistance of strength training. And we run around the track again and then we all do chin-ups, resistance training. So, we alternate between cardio and strength.
Something very similar happens when you do meditation. A well-rounded mental athlete or meditator needs to be strong in two complementary qualities of mind. And one quality is open awareness which can be seen as mindfulness and the other one is focus awareness which can be seen as concentration. So, a good mental athlete, a good meditator can do both on-demand. He can be very good at the open mind and is very good at focusing whenever he wants to.
These two are complementary qualities which can be trained separately. And a good way to do this is to do something like circuit training. So, some amount of time on focus concentration followed by some amount of time on open awareness and so on. Before we begin, let me give you some qualities, I'll describe some qualities of each mind.
Open awareness. Open Awareness is like an open door. Specifically, it's like being a very good host, a welcoming, very friendly host in the house and whoever comes, he allows them in, he welcomes them. And then whoever wants to stay he allows them to stay for as long as they want and for whoever wants to leave, he allows them to leave. He lets them go.
In contrast, focus awareness is like God at the palace gates. There's certain people allowed in, he allows them in. There's certain people not allowed in. He will courteously but firmly say, "No, I cannot let you in." So, there's a difference.
So, in real life or in your practice in open awareness or mindfulness there is no such thing as a distractor. Any thought that arises, any sensation that arise is the object of meditation It'll just bring to mind or attention to the object. And when that object leaves the mind, we let it go. In contrast, in focus awareness there is such thing as a distractor. So, for example, if a chosen object of meditation is the breath, anything that's not a breath, thought arises, a sound, anything that is not the breath is a distractor. And the mind should just very gently, courteously but firmly tell the distractor, "I'm sorry. You are not my object and I'm returning to my object." This is the difference.
There are a couple of other analogies. Open awareness is like grass swaying gently in the wind. It's very flexible. Whatever arise, whatever wind comes, it just moves to it. Focus awareness, in contrast, is like a mountain. It's always there, stable, strong, unwavering. Whatever the wind comes is untouched by the wind.