From a reply on a Dharma list, where someone asked:
"I have an object such as watching the breath but I am constantly distracted. Please elaborate on "In order to keep from being distracted, that object is a support."
Hi there, one way you could approach this is by reviewing your intention - what is the intention behind your practice? Is it to get somewhere? Is it to achieve a certain state? Is that state something that you'd characterise as quiet, still, concentrated? Is that something that I'm chasing after, in however subtle a form?
One way you can look at the intention behind practicing Dharma, is to awaken. To be aware. To be fully and deeply aware of whatever you are experiencing, right now. Aware .. and even knowing it's nature.
As such .. there's no real reason to try to get rid of thoughts, or to make them subside, or to set up any sort of division between where you are and where you want to get. What is arising at that time can be the focus and intention of your practice. Can I fully experience what is here at this moment. Fully experience it?
You can have a support in this .. such as the breath, which is something that you can you can begin with ... throughout your practice. You can allow yourself to experience the breath. And rest in that experiencing. If you are then able, you can open the awareness to include what other sensations of the body, tactile sensations you are experiencing. Without moving away from experiencing the breath ... but opening to include more in your awareness. If you then lose the breath, then come back gently to it.
Should be you able to rest in experiencing fully the breath and the body sensations .. you can include visual sensations in your experience in your awareness. Not focussing down on any of them .. not concentrating .. but allowing them into your awareness ... together with the breath, and the tactile sensations. Again, if you lose the breath, gently come back to experiencing fully the breath, then open awareness to include tactile sensations .. and the visual sensations.
You can carry on this way and gradually open to more and more of your experience, your heard sensations, taste, smell ... then asking 'what is going on at the emotional level' and experiencing that together with the rest. Then 'what is going on at the story level' .. and allowing thoughts to be fully experienced in awareness.
So gradually you move to deepen and open your awareness to *all* your experience at that moment. The breath is a support as it's where you begin with awareness of your experience, and where you return to each time you lose awareness.
You *will* lose awareness! It's the nature of things :-) .... so we don't really need to get too caught up in calling it names like 'distraction' .. and trying to get away from that happening. If you keep doing the practice, then over time you build up 'capacity'. With capacity, you gain the ability to rest the mind with whatever is there. It's a natural process, and one which you don't' have to fight. And one you don't have control over, as such. You can't force yourself to concentrate.
There are three aspects to our ability to hold whatever arises in our awareness, each of which you need:
- You have the 'motivation' to be aware.
- You have knowledge of 'techniques' for being aware, such as the above, and what you've been taught.
- Then, you just need to do it, and gradually, the third ingredient will build, that of 'capacity'.
With increased capacity, you will lose awareness less, and you will be able to be aware of thoughts without getting lost in them so often, and you will most likely come back to awareness more quickly when you are out of awareness. You'll see that these three happen over different time-spans, and with differing degrees of control. Motivation is something which can be easily set (and lost) in the moment. Capacity, by contrast, is something which builds up slowly over time, and something we cannot 'decide' to do or have.
This sort of gentle, open, inclusive approach will tend to lead to less annoyance with being distracted, I find. And rather than trying to concentrate ... if your intention is to wake up ... to be able to rest in fully experiencing what is present, in each moment ... then awareness will naturally deepen, and knowing will naturally unfold, and you will find less tension and unease (suffering) in the path, as well what was already there!
I hope this description of the Mahamudra approach has been of some use ...