28 Jun 2021

[104] Extended Continuity of Attention and Overcoming Forgetting

Stage Three includes longer periods of sustained attention to the breath. While the mind still wanders sometimes, it does not happen for very long. This stage is continued practice of Stage Two until mind-wandering eventually stops completely

Practice Goals for Stage Three

  • Overcome forgetting with the techniques of following the breath and connecting
  • Actively engage with the meditation object for extended periods of uninterrupted attention
  • Cultivate introspective awareness through the practices of labeling and checking in
    • These techniques allow me to catch distractions before they lead to forgetting
    • Also, these techniques allow me to deal with the pain and drowsiness that often arise in this stage

Stage Three Mastery

  • Occurs when I no longer forget the breath
  • The first milestone achievement is continuous attention to the meditation object

How Forgetting Happens

  • A distraction is anything that competes with the meditation object for my attention. To stop forgetting, I must understand and work with distractions
  • There are two distinct types of distractions:
    • Subtle & Gross, they differ based on the amount of time attention is on the distraction versus the breath
    • When less time is spent on the distraction, and the meditation object remains the primary focus of attention, it’s a subtle distraction
    • If one of the subtle distractions takes center stage, occupying my attention for most of the time, and causing the meditation object to slip into the background, it becomes a gross distraction
  • Alternating attention creates a scattering of attention to distractions. These are the distractions that potentially cause forgetting

Overcoming Forgetting

  • To overcome forgetting, I first need to extend periods of stable attention by actively engaging the breath, so I can look into my mind and see what’s happening
  • Extended periods of attention and introspective awareness allow me to correct for distractions before they cause forgetting

Sustaining Attention through Following and Connecting

  • Following
    • Follow the in- and out-breath at a macro-scale before identifying various sensations associated with each in- and out-breath
    • My intention will be to follow the breath with vividness and clarity and to be aware of very fine details
    • The actual number of sensations I can perceive isn’t that important. What matters is that my perception grows sharper and that I stay interested in and attentive to the breath
    • While doing this, it is important to maintain extrospective awareness in that I do not let my mind naturally drop awareness of bodily sensations and external stimuli
  • Connecting
    • Connecting is an extension of following that involves making comparisons and associations. Example includes:
      • Are the in- and out-breath the same length, or is one longer than the other?
    • When I can compare the lengths clearly, expand the task to include relative changes over time. Example includes:
      • Are the pauses between the in- and out-breaths longer or shorter than they were in the beginning?
    • When I find the mind agitated and there are more distractions, ask myself:
      • Is the breath longer or shorter, deeper or shallower, finer or coarser than when the mind is calm

Cultivating Introspective Awareness through Labeling and Checking In

  • Cultivate introspective awareness. With introspective awareness, I am aware of what’s happening in my mind
  • Labeling
    • Before, I relied on spontaneous introspective awareness (the “aha!” Moment to alert myself forgetting and mind-wandering)
    • With positive reinforcement following these spontaneous realizations, awareness learns to catch mind-wandering faster and faster
    • To strengthen introspective awareness, use labeling to practice identifying the distraction in the very moment I realize I’m no longer on the breath
    • Give the distraction a neutral label such as “thinking,” “planning,” or “remembering” without analyzing the distraction before gently directing my attention back to the breath
  • Checking In
    • Instead of waiting for introspective awareness to arise spontaneously, I intentionally turn my attention inward to see what’s happening in the mind
    • Instead of waiting for introspective awareness to arise spontaneously, check in periodically using introspective attention
    • Checking in allows me to correct for gross distraction before it causes forgetting
      • When I notice a gross distraction, tighten up attention on the breath to prevent forgetting
      • It may also help to take a moment to label the distraction before returning to the breath
    • Each time I check in with attention, I strengthen the power and consistency of introspective awareness

Pain and Discomfort

  • When unpleasant sensations arise, ignore them as long as I can. Resist the urge to move for relief
  • When the discomfort becomes too much to ignore, turn my attention toward the pain and make it the focus of my attention
    • Remember, when training the mind, I always want to intentionally choose the focus of my attention
  • If the unpleasant sensation disappears or decreases enough to be ignored, return to the sensations of the breath
  • If, instead, the urge to move becomes irresistible, decide in advance when I’ll move and exactly what movement I’ll make, then be very observant as I perform that movement
  • For now, remember that by meditating on these harmless sources of pain, I gain insight into the nature of desire and aversion by watching how resistance and impatience create suffering

Dullness and Drowsiness

  • While distraction scatters attention to other objects of awareness, dullness scatters attention to a void in which nothing is perceived at all
  • Introspective attention can alert me to dullness before I get drowsy and fall asleep. Each time I check-in to look for gross distractions, look for dullness as well


  • Stage Three is mastered when forgetting and mind-wandering no longer occur, and the breath stays continually in conscious awareness
  • The mind still roams, but it’s tethered to the meditation object, never getting too far away
  • The ability to continuously sustain attention on the meditation object is remarkable, so take satisfaction in my accomplishment

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