Attention Training

Excerpt from “Living in Buddha Standard Time,” a Buddhist Geeks conversation with Lama Surya Das (October 4, 2010):

Most people have had an experience of time slowing down, maybe like in a traffic accident or while they’re falling from a height, or tumbling over beneath the waves and drowning or something. Or, if you’re in pain, a minute seems like an hour. What’s the saying? The watched pot never seems to boil. You know, while you’re waiting for the pot to boil, if you go away it boils right away. You like have to hurry back it seems. But if you sit there, watching it, it seems never to boil.

Time is so elastic, and it’s not just that it’s speeded up in this era; it could also be slowed down if we’re more aware. Maybe you’ve experienced that on some drug or something. Maybe you’ve experienced it in a dream or a vision. Time can also be very slow motion. The outer slowing down of time with slow motion film and all is just an image of how this feels internally, when you’re more aware. By sharpening you’re awareness, processing the frames of awareness like a movie frame. Every step seems to be slower, you can be very aware of lifting and moving your foot forward and shifting the weight in your abdomen and putting down the other foot and stepping on it—without walking slower, by shifting the mind, by more sharp and quick awareness. Not thinking faster, but with quicker awareness.

This is attention training. This is awareness training. This is part of samadhi or focused awareness. We can train ourselves in this way to be aware of more mind moments within one second or one minute. To be aware of the space between thoughts, not just the thoughts that we’re caught in, and so on. And to slow down a little and to be more present so we can choose how and if to respond to stimuli, not just blindly reacting. The secret of mindful anger management is creating some space between the outer stimulus and your reaction, so you can choose how and when to respond.

I think that time is very elastic, and…what did Einstein say? Time slows down so much when you’re waiting to see if you can take that first kiss from a girl. That’s Albert Einstein by the way, I’m not making it up. So he doesn’t just talk about e=mc2 and how at the speed of light all mass is fused and so on, time and space continuum and different dimensions. He was actually saying that when you are keenly present and aware and involved wholly in something, when you’re on the edge of your mental seat, time seems to slow down, like waiting to see if you can kiss that girl, when you’re young.