As I understand it, focusing attention on a meditation object is a way of stabilizing the mind so that we can clearly observe both what attention is focused on as well as what's going on in awareness at the same time. It's similar to what happens with vision where if your eyes are moving around, peripheral vision is not clear. But if you focus your eyes on an object or fixed spot, you'll also be able to see what's around the spot of focus in peripheral vision. With practice, peripheral vision can become both broader and clearer. The same sort of thing can happen with attention and awareness.
This is a set of skills that develops over time with consistent practice. As stability of attention and depth of awareness develop, layers of the mind become accessible that we previously had no idea existed, including jhana, insight, and awakening.
My understanding is based on what I've read in The Mind Illuminated (subreddit r/TheMindIlluminated), which offers a progressive sequence of exercises and stages mapping the typical progress of a meditator as meditation practice develops.
I hope this is helpful and best wishes for your practice.
It might help to read some more detailed books about meditation so that you know more about what you're doing, what mistakes to try to recognize, and what milestones to expect.
I like The Mind Illuminated because it provides a lot of detailed information about what to expect and what to do about it.
I'd suggest looking at The Mind Illuminated. It describes the difference between awareness and attention as being very much like what I think you're saying about awareness and focus. (Except that I'd say the opposite of awareness is unconsciousness. :)
According to the TMI model, attention is a subset of awareness. Awareness contains all of our experience simultaneously (but not in great detail) while attention focuses on one aspect of experience at a time and shows it in higher resolution.
TMI describes ten stages of development we can progress through in developing the clarity and brightness of awareness and our ability to control attention and keep it focused where we want. So it does describe how to develop both awareness and attention, or focus.
It's really simple to start out:
1) Devote 10 minutes of each day to meditation time. Early morning is best, as your mind is fresh and not as distracted.
2) Find a quiet/non-distracting place to sit in a comfortable position. Legs crossed on the floor or in a chair are fine. You want to keep your back straight to help keep from falling asleep.
3) Focus on the sensation of your breath, wherever it is strongest. Typically this is the tip of the nose, or in the nostril, but chest can work as well.
Your mind will become distracted with work, worries, thoughts of food, etc. When this happens, congratulate yourself on noticing that it happened, and bring your attention back to your breath.
That's it! It blows my mind how developing concentration can have such a profound impact on your life.
Here are some good resources for those interested:
The book is called The Mind Illuminated, and is an absolutely fantastic book on meditation. Super cheap too: https://www.amazon.com/Mind-Illuminated-Meditation-Integrati...
The Mind Illuminated (a book) talks about the difference between attention and awareness in a very similar way.
Was the book The Science of Enlightenment, by Shinzen Young? There are a couple of books on Amazon that could be called "The Science of Meditation", and I don't have copies of them, but if it was the book by Shinzen, notice that when he mentions the dark night, he's talking about particular meditation techniques that have to do with attending to impermanence and emptiness. He mentions it in Chapter 9, "The Power of Gone".
As other commenters have said, if you stick to concentration practices (stable attention on a single object), it's unlikely that you'll ever have an issue with the unpleasant mind states that can arise from more insight-oriented practice (i.e., vipassana, which involves noting each sensation as it arises, so the attention is jumping from from sensation to sensation, not staying stable on a single object of focus).
Another good book is The Mind Illuminated, by John Yates. It provides a progressive approach based on developing a solid foundation of concentration skill so that if you ever do get to the point of developing insight into impermanence and emptiness, the psychological impact will be cushioned by the depth of concentration skill and equanimity you will have already developed.
The bottom line is that you can feel comfortable about meditating to calm yourself as long as you do concentration type meditation and don't venture into "insight" practice (also called "noting" or "vipassana").
>I feel upset that I read that passage and also that I continued to self-sabotage and indulge in the fear by incessantly scrolling reddit.
Another possible perspective is that by reading The Science of Enlightenment and then following up by researching the dark night on reddit, you have informed yourself about a potential threat that you might have otherwise stumbled into inadvertently. Now that you have some awareness and knowledge about it, you know how to avoid it.
Be well and I hope your practice continues to serve you well.
Doing it on your own without a teacher isn't the best way to go since there are a lot of bad habits and cul-de-sacs that you can fall into. So if you're going to do it without an in-person teacher or group it's a good idea to have a clearly defined system and a way to be able to get feedback from a teacher. There are two that I'd recommend you research and see if they'd be a good fit for you.
The Mind Illuminated is a book that focuses on concentration-style meditation. If you want to do breath meditation and only want to focus on one style of meditation, this is a good choice. The book is very detailed but is set up so that you only have to read as far as your practice has progressed. There's a Reddit community (/r/TheMindIlluminated) where you can ask questions and get responses from other practitioners and teachers.
Unified Mindfulness is a system that's more focused on mindfulness-style meditation, but it has options for concentration styles along with a wide array of other meditation types. If you like being able to explore and choose different objects of meditation and different techniques, this would be a good fit. There's a less active Reddit community (/r/UnifiedMindfulness), a youtube channel with a lot of information, and a free online course that you can take.
I'm currently walking along this path and can recommend these books -
John Yates - The Mind Illuminated
Sam Harris - Waking Up
Owen Flanagan - The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized
I invite you to try meditation. This book could very well save your life:
It will help you to gain the awareness that the things you are placing so much importance on are not really all that important. It's never too late, my friend.
Here's where I would start......and end. :-)
Notice the difference between attention and awareness. Awareness includes everything you can hear, see, and feel. Attention is focused on one thing. To keep from getting distracted when thoughts arise, internal awareness has to get trained to the point that it notices thoughts as they begin to appear and keeps them in the background so the attention can stay focused on the meditation object. To do this, you have to hold and renew the intention over and over to stay with the meditation object and let thoughts come and go in the background of awareness. It takes a while.
Also, it's important to celebrate the moment when awareness reminds you that you've been wandering rather than beating up on your self for having wandered in the first place. If mind wandering is experienced as negative, your motivation to meditate will eventually run out. By celebrating the recovery, you shift away from negative reinforcement to positive reinforcement, your experience is more pleasant, and your motivation will be more likely to stay strong.
The Mind Illuminated explains this approach and provides step by step instruction on how to do it.
Do you know anything about the progress of insight (PoI)? If not, I would recommend reading the next pages of that link until you get to the end of the PoI. That will give you a brief overview of things, and then you can decide what you want to do.
If you want to continue progressing and getting supramundane insights, then the next thing to do is check out Mastering The Core Teachings of The Buddha, by Daniel Ingram. This is a must-read for anyone on this path, BUT it is well known that Ingram gets a bit "excited" and exaggerates things at times, so bear that in mind. Either way, once again, it is a must-read, at the very least, Chapter 30 - The Progress of Insight. Once you read this, you will have a much better idea of what everything is all about, and what to expect. Also bear in mind, this book is about Vipassana meditation, so if your practice is different, there will be some confusion at times, but you will still go through the majority of experiences in a similar way.
Another thing to do is check out some of the more "serious" subreddits:
Thanks for indulging my curiosity. My meditation practice is based on the book The Mind Illuminated, by John Yates. It lays out a ten stage path for developing one's skill with balanced attention and awareness, beginning with establishing a practice and going all the way to where mindful awareness is a persistent state between meditation sessions (stage 10). FWIW, I'm working on stages 4 and 5. There is also a subreddit for practitioners who use TMI, r/TheMindIlluminated.
Another resource you might find interesting is Shinzen Young's Unified Mindfulness program. He has designed a taxonomy of meditation practices that simplifies the range of them in a very interesting way. There is a subreddit for UM also: r/UnifiedMindfulness.
This is just to offer a couple of options for moving forward if you think either or both might help you. If neither of these appeal, there are lots of meditation teachers and systems you can explore. Youtube is a great resource for finding meditation information and instruction, although you have to apply some effort to separate wheat and chaff sometimes and sooner or later it will probably be helpful to you to interact directly with a teacher.
I hope you find a path forward that works for you.
Short book on meditation: https://www.amazon.com/Sit-Like-Buddha-Pocket-Meditation/dp/...
Longer book: https://www.amazon.com/Mind-Illuminated-Meditation-Integrati...
Also, try some guidelines to help you choose more intentionally when and how to analyze things. Is it no topic is worth thinking through all outcomes? Or, important topics are worth it, and they are x, y and z? Or, I can do that type of thinking only an hour a day, from 7-8pm? Once a week? A therapist and trial and error can help you figure out what works for you.
Have a counterfactual behavior that you'll do when you notice you're analyzing when you didn't intend to. E.g. if I notice I'm thinking through scenarios, I'll acknowledge that, then focus on my breath.
Metta and mindfulness will probably help you out a lot. This will get you started with mindfulness: https://www.audiodharma.org/series/1/talk/1762/
If you're looking for something really substantive then check out the book The Mind Illuminated (not an easy read but totally worth it) and follow the practices in that book.
have you tried reading the mind illuminated?
totally changed my meditation practice.
"Dry" insight only works for people with exceptional innate faculties like naturally strong discernment and concentration. For those without these advantages, it is possible to practice noting for years without making progress toward stream-entry, and these people are potentially wasting their time--if your concentration isn't strong enough, no amount of noting will guarantee SE.
I strongly recommend that you start with concentration practices taught in The Mind Illuminated or Your Breathing Body . Only introduce insight techniques once you have developed strong concentration. Any improvements to quality of life that you're seeking from meditation will come from jhana first. Even MCTB recommends developing easy access to the first jhana before attempting insight practices.
I dabbled in meditation for years but it wasn't until this book that I was able to see the complete picture and why it's such an important area of study for all reflective minds, and start making real progress. There's so much snake oil out there regarding meditation. It has changed my life for the better in so many ways. It's also simply a great manual for how to approach learning just about anything in a happy and healthy way.
Fwiw, Culadasa (John Yates PhD) taught physiology and neuroscience before retiring and that's very much reflected in his approach to writing the book, using modern understanding of the brain. People think kids should start learning programming from a young age? Meditation as I understand it now is even more important! For personal growth and understanding, general awareness, EQ, and more...
It's been discussed on HN before (it's how I found it a few years ago) and breaks down meditation in a systematic way while relating the phenomena described in Buddhist texts to current psychological principles. This "moments of consciousness model" of the mind is discussed at length and a short answer to you question is yes, different sensory moments are integrated in "binding moments".