The Mind Illuminated by John Yates



  • This book is remarkably straight to the point
  • It's very valuable to have things you suspect but are unsure about confirmed by just reading a little bit ahead. For example, I was getting frustrated that in my attempts to observe the breath I was influencing it, making the breaths longer or deeper. Reading ahead in here though, it explicitly called out that this happens and tells you not to worry about it, and recasts it as unconcious action, not actions you're doing unintentionallly.
  • I really like the definition of mindfulness as the optimal interaction between attention and peripheral awareness. A definition that leaves out the attention piece feels incomplete as awareness without intention seems pointless to me.


Annotations & Highlights

You may feel like you’re trying to tame a wild animal, or even that meditation is making your mind more agitated. In reality, you’re just becoming aware of what’s always been going on in the mind. Recognizing this is an important first step.

You can’t scold the mind into changing, especially when dealing with entrenched mental patterns like forgetting and mind-wandering. Even worse, the negative feedback will get associated with the most recent event: the spontaneous arising of introspective awareness, and you’ll end up discouraging the very process that stops mind-wandering.

Ultimately, meditation means training a complex, multi-part system (the mind) to work cooperatively, coherently, and consistently through a shared consensus toward common goals.

Now, sustaining attention is trickier than directing attention. Why? It’s possible to voluntarily direct attention. However, the part of the mind that sustains attention for more than a few moments works entirely unconsciously. We can’t use our will to control how long we remain focused on one thing. Instead, an unconscious process weighs the importance of what we’re focusing on against other possible objects of attention.

by mindfulness, I specifically mean the optimal interaction between attention and peripheral awareness, which requires increasing the overall conscious power of the mind.

A meditation object is something you intentionally choose to be the focus of your attention during meditation. Although you can choose just about anything, the breath is ideal for cultivating attention and mindfulness. First, the breath is always with you. Second, it allows you to be a completely passive observer.

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