I will be leading another session of Shinzen’s Basic Mindfulness Home Practice Program on the technique “Focus Out” on Saturday, January 11.

The “Home Practice Program” (HPP) is a dial-in virtual retreat held every month on the second weekend. Shinzen and other facilitators teach and lead sessions with instruction, Q&A, and time for silent practice. Some people just call in for one or another segment, and other people set aside the whole weekend for a structured retreat which can be done anywhere with phone access. Hundreds of people call in from all over the world.

“Focus Out” has a special place in my heart because it is the first of Shinzen’s techniques that I ever learned myself. The idea is to develop the core attentional skills of concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity by attending in a very particular way to external sights, sounds, and physical body sensations (as opposed to their inner analogues such as mental images, self-talk, or emotions). I had been trying to learn “noting” (a way of labelling experience in real time to enhance mindfulness developed historically in the Mahasi tradition) from other sources and encountering more frustration than success. The Basic Mindfulness approach, starting with Focus Out, transformed my practice for the better.

As always when I facilitate Basic Mindfulness, the emphasis will be squarely on learning solid technique and getting the essential form right within Shinzen’s system. With me, however, the philosophy of Leslie Dewart is never far behind. One of the main things I love about Focus Out is how obvious and demonstrable it is, as a case study of being present to one’s own experience. The classic example of a conscious experience, “seeing an apple”, falls within Focus Out (technically, See Out). Although many believe that the “sense of self” arises from inner, subjective experience, I subscribe to Dewart’s analysis (E&C, p. 61):

The conscious organism awakens to its own reality by experiencing itself merely as the ‘something else’ to which real objects are relative; the self is, to begin with, nothing but other-­than-­the-­object. It is, indeed, if I may awkwardly but exactly put it, nothing but the other-­that-­the-­other-­is-­other-­than; it is, therefore, born to conscious life as a purely negative reality, being merely that which is not-the-­object.

The connection to the doctrine of anatta (non-self) should be self-evident, so to speak. Having said that, this connection will not necessarily be crystal clear to all students after only a few hours of practice. In spite of its “external” focus — indeed, perhaps because of it — the Focus Out practice is apt to help the diligent student discover the true nature of the (non-)self, and maybe even reality itself, precisely because the confounding effects of reflexive considerations are out of play.

I want the world to be overrun by people who have recovered from absent-mindedness — who have gotten over their (non-)selves and who understand the nature of reality — and I know that practising Basic Mindfulness can bring about that result in the motivated and properly guided individual. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be offering this practise to those who want it.

The registration deadline is Wednesday, January 8. If you wish to participate and you can’t afford $20 for whatever reason, contact Emily (the administrator) and she can set you up with a scholarship.

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