>> 1. What were your first experiences as a beginner about the mind? About controlling it? The difficulties? I would like this to be as detailed as possible. <<
When I first sat down and attempted the first mental exercise of Step One, it seemed impossible. My mind was so active and entirely out of *my* control, or so it seemed. The first hurdle for me was to believe that I actually did have control over it! ;-) I remembering being very frustrated at first. It wasn't until I stopped fighting my mind (fighting it took a LOT of energy for zero result) and quit trying to arm-wrestle it down by sheer force of will, that my frustration passed and the excitement began.
>> 2. What improvements did you notice, and how did they come about? In general, I am asking for a description of your progress for complete novice, to intermediate, to advanced. Hopefully, there are a few here who are advanced enough to really be qualified to give advice and enlightenment, not from a theoretical point of view, but from the point of view of a true practitioner. <<
The first improvement was that my struggle taught me not to struggle. :) Once I'd jumped that hurdle and was able to *passively* observe the activities of my mind I learned many things about the nature of my brain-bound consciousness. Number one was that it ended up being a pretty quiet place once I had disengaged and stopped participating in its activity. Number two was that the thoughts that did arise in that relative quiet were significant thoughts. They arose and dissipated on their own and from observing this, I realized that it was those seed thoughts that my surface consciousness turned into all that mess of randomness that typified my mind before. But those slow thoughts within the quiet were quite different than what my surface consciousness created out of them, so different that the surface chaos was unrecognizable as having any essential significance.
It was my success with the first exercise that enabled my success with the second. Specifically, it was learning the ability to detach my active awareness from participating in the surface consciousness.
>> 3. How do you define concentration or "one-pointedness"? What thoughts are excluded? And how did you experience this? <<
The second exercise is about learning how to focus your attention and how to keep it focused for a length of time. This can really only be done effectively within the context of a quiet mind.
This exercise was very easy for me once I had attained a relative quiet of mind. Instead of focusing upon one of the seed thoughts that arise in the quiet mind, I put one of my own invention into that environment and focused on it. At first this didn't work because once I focused on this new, foreign thought, my brain-bound surface awareness took over and began participating in the seed thoughts that were arising in the background and all hell would break loose! ;-) It was like trying to read while the TV's blaring. :-) Part of your mind is still listening to the TV.
How I overcame that was by ignoring it. After a while, even that background noise turned to quietness and I was able to focus my *whole* attention on my created thought form.
There are no hard and fast rules about what to exclude and what to include. Those are intuitive, self-directed choices. At first I stuck only to those thoughts that had a clearly direct relevance to my chosen idea, and ignored (i.e., didn't participate in) those thoughts that had no clear relevance. Later, I experimented with opening those parameters. From that experience, I learned which layers of association are worth pursuing and which aren't.
Then I experimented with focusing my attention upon the seed thoughts that naturally arose in the quietness. These were very fertile ground for exploration!
As soon as I got the hang of the exercise, it was no problem to maintain my focus for as long as I desired or as was needed.
>> 4. How did and how do you experience "emptiness of mind" as it is called in this list? <<
This exercise is an extension, in some respects, of the first exercise, but it takes the well honed ability to focus your mind and keep it focused, to achieve a true emptiness. The hurdle for me was in letting go of those seed thoughts that arise in the quiet mind, when I wasn't focusing it on anything else. I could let go of them easily if I focused on a created idea, but with this exercise there is no created idea to focus that attention upon. Even though in the first exercise, I had learned how to detach from participating in them, I discovered that it was a different matter to not even perceive them arising. This took a different sort of focus and a good amount of will power for me to achieve *complete* silence of *thought*. I found that this state required that I focus *just* upon perception of what *is*, and willfully ignore all thought processes of any kind. It was also here that I learned the value of setting aside the input from all of the physical senses beforehand. This eventually lead to my composing the "Center of Stillness Meditation".
It took me about a month of steady effort to finally achieve a true emptiness of mind. After that, time became less and less of an issue and within another month I could hold the emptiness for as long as I desired.
The emptiness itself is very difficult to describe with any succinctness. :) It is infinite. At first it was absolutely dark and I felt completely alone. But this changed with time and I now experience it as filled with brightness. This brightness contains an infinite amount of information that supercedes "thinking". Thinking comes *after* its perception within the emptiness and is part of how I integrate it into my mundane consciousness. Its *perception* however, requires the complete absence of *thinking*.
>> 6. Having controlled the mind, how does it make you feel in daily life? What are the benefits? <<
Self-determined, self-directed, self-conscious. It has turned my life into a conscious and intentional act, instead of being pushed about, willy-nilly by events, thoughts, and emotions. I am able to *use* my mind. I can focus it at any moment, regardless of what transpires around me. I can enter into an emptiness of mind at any moment I choose, again regardless of my surroundings. My mind is my friend and we get along well. :)
>> 7. How does this make the sensory exercises of Step 2 easier? From your PERSONAL experience? <<
The mental exercises of Step One are what make the sensory concentration exercises possible. These Step Two exercises require that you be able to clear your mind of all else and be able to focus your attention upon *just* the exercise at hand. It also requires that you know, experientially, how your mind works and what to expect of it.
>> 8. How does a disciplined mind dream? Have you noticed a change in the quality of your dreaming? <<
I think pretty much the only difference is that the disciplined mind has an easier time of lucid dreaming, if one chooses to do so.
My best to you,
:) Rawn Clark
29 Aug 2003