Writing about mindfulness and meditation

Appropriate attention: notes on a home retreat

I sat an online at-home retreat with Gavin Milne over the weekend. It was very interesting to be practicing in a hybrid space: letting go of some distractions (and noticing getting hooked by others) and emphasising practice but also being present and connected with family and having that context of bringing practice into every posture, task, and situation—or trying to! I kept some notes, as I wanted to put some markers down for how we were practising with this approach. Here's what stood out to me from Gavin's instructions.

Day 1: Instructions

  • Key piece for this retreat is: yoniso manasikara (appropriate attention).
  • We want to be awake for what's happening.
  • It is a practice to be present and awake while on the computer. We really can start to infuse every aspect of our life with awareness.
  • Probably don't start listening to audio. Books OK.
  • There's a certain support for awareness when the schedule is flexible. We realise that there is no better time than now to be aware, not waiting for the next sitting. No agenda, less pressure.
  • We're making a "wide fence" practice space.
  • Meditation space open.

Day 2: Instructions

  • Invitation to take the hands off, see what arises.
  • Yes practice can be about samadhi, but it can also be about receptive open awareness, moment-to-moment mindfulness. We can emphasize one or the other but these come together. Analogy of building a boat (samadhi) vs jumping in and swimming (receptive mindfulness). We can mix and match, it's fine to spend a little time building a boat, or diving in.
  • If we give mindful attn to the body, the mind will naturally begin to settle.
  • Glass of murky water settling analogy - we keep things stirred up if we put pressure on ourselves.
  • There's no wrong experience to be having. There's no experience we can't wake up to.
  • Personal observation: when I realise that there’s no wrong experience to be having, then I can be with the changing flow of experience. This may not always flow in a pleasing direction but to be with it is to be present.
  • Last night a sense of something like Nibbana wants us to awaken or needs us to awaken to be realised? I can't remember!
  • Relax, be aware, don't get caught up on the method.
  • How we are aware is more important than ticking off 30 mins of sitting.
  • Greed, hatred, delusion is not a judgment, it's a way of describing the vortex that spins us away from this timeless refuge of the present.
  • Opposite of greed is generosity: we're giving our attention to life (and to the kids!), rather than "I'm only giving attn to this if it feels like I want it to feel."
  • Noticing background narratives, "Oh yeah, I really want to get calm and peaceful this weekend."
  • Noticing when meditation becomes about the future.
  • We're not going to figure out this practice through thinking this weekend. Coming back to the tangible. The type of wakefulness we're talking about is direct. Prioritising just shining the light of awareness. Bare attention.
  • Make our home in the causes of awakening, and let awakening happen by itself.
  • In meditation just now we engaged with first three of the 7FA (seven factors of awakening): mindfulness, curiosity, energy.
  • Curiosity is the beginning of wisdom.
  • By energy in 7FA we mean conserving energy, redirecting it into present moment. Not effort, not striving. Sensitive like a mother attending to a child.
  • Most important attribute leading to awakening according to the Buddha: yoniso manasikara (appropriate attn). The movement towards seeing life in accordance with how it really is. Attention that is on the right track. Attention that gets to the root. Interesting that the most important attribute is not mindfulness.
  • Sayadaw U Tejaniya, "There is dharma talk everywhere... If we can think and see nature as it really is, the mind can become free."
  • Resisting the pulls of that which doesn't really serve us.
  • Am I relating to this as permanent or impermanent, can it give lasting satisfaction, as if there is a personal self? These are questions related to yoniso manasikara.
  • Am I prioritising things as though I'm never going to die? Never quite getting around to being here and the practice.
  • Bare attention is on the right track. For me this is also hinting at keeping our mental activity related to the present.


  • Gavin: We escape from prison by letting the prison walls fall away, not by trying to break out.

Day 2: Evening dhamma talk

  • Want to present a shape that can make sense of how we practice in our lives.
  • Leela Saarti influenced this framing.
  • Through the ages there is a transition that human's have made from a proeccupations with the world outside to a sense of coming home.
  • Eventually the sense of disconnect from ourselves becomes the source of dissatisfaction, and we naturally turn back towards ourselves.
  • Yoniso manasikara is asking us to honestly evaluate whether what we are pursuing can genuinely satisfy us.
  • Buddhadharma is a vehicle, not the ultimate destination, but it seems to be a reliable vehicle.
  • Catch 22: not paying attention to realise that we're not paying attention. In Bhante G's book Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness.
  • Coming home, into the body. It's through this body that we relax the sense of separation.
  • Best translation of Mara is "The Tempter". The more comfortable we are being mindful of the body, the less leverage Mara has.
  • Hindrances: don't go to war with them, but don't perpetuate them. There's no wrong experience to be having. But what about dropping through them, discovering what may be underneath them.
  • T.S. Eliot Four Quartets quote: "Knowing the place for the first time."
  • Ajahn Chah, two types of suffering quote: 1) suffering of grasping after things that cannot satisfy, 2) suffering that comes when we turn towards the truth of impermanence etc., turning towards how things are, feel fully the constant change of experience. If we choose the type of suffering of being with and fully feeling the impermanent the suffering is of a different quality, we can hold it and experience it differently, and perhaps compassion can arise from this. Like when there is equanimity and pain and grief can still be there but we don't suffer.
  • Normalising the rub that comes when we commit to a path but it's the way to penetrate more deeply.
  • We do have these questions about how to practice, am I doing it right? But it's more important to get clear about Ajahn Chah's two types of suffering and which we're experiencing. It's quite an achievement to feel the second kind, of feeling fully the constant change of experience.
  • Some of this is challenging but there is great value in continuing to show up.

Day 3: Instructions

  • Beginner's mind, starting afresh.
  • Questioning the mindset of 7 x 45 min meditations = productive day.
  • How much effort does it actually take to show up?
  • Realigning: here I am now.
  • Structure can be helpful but it's not ultimately about that. It's about getting to the other shore. Being honest with what I'm experiencing, how I'm doing.
  • Keeping yoniso manasikara simple: seeing with mindfulness the impermanent, changing nature of things. When this awareness shuts off we relate to things, feelings, people, ourselves as if they are permanent. For example, if I nail it this time I get the nice feeling that will last. Or feeling unpleasantness, maybe we need to feel that changing feeling. Maybe it's the suffering that leads to the end of suffering. For example, feeling judged if we don't reply to a text but maybe taking care right here and we might feel a rub, feeling like we might be judged, but maybe this is the suffering we need to feel. This practice is not about controlling the worldly winds: a lot of that suffering is the second type.
  • There's a middle way here. We can operate from good intention.
  • William Blake: "A fool who knows their folly becomes wise."
  • Gavin thinks Buddhism is about coming into relationship with craving and aversion and realising it's less personal than we thought. Being mindful of our reactivity supports equanimity. Not necessarily about simply not craving.
  • We have the potential now as adults to discover the resources in our being, and that means we don't have to work as hard as we have been doing (assume this refers to strong reactivity).
  • Noticing how we're relating to experience. Often the naming is enough. "Ah, I'm looking forward to..."
  • The only way things become peaceful is by taking good care of this moment.
  • The path bears fruit for us only when we've learnt all the lessons we need to learn.
  • 7FA: a direct teaching. A deep reconnection. Not a to do list. Check in with what the Buddha's pointing to. Mindfulness, curiosity, energy. Being here, being curious, bringing energy back into present moment awareness rather than distractions. These first three are causes for the remaining factors.
  • If I can access wellbeing in the present moment, that's a game changer. Taking care of the moment, not trying to make it happen. The joy of living. Inner joy.
  • Lots of levels of equanimity. Can be a feeling of being unshakable but also a subtle quality of being able to meet the rubs of life.
  • We don't really do the depth, we let the depth in. The last four of 7FA are the fruit. And in a way even mindfulness is fortuitous, deep, and mindfulness. And curiosity is part of the nature of the awake, aware mind.
  • We have this whole day, this opportunity.
  • I feel like this online at home format might be the best way for me. A bit of structure, but also the ease of being at home. Just a couple of meditations into the day and already feeling very peaceful and still. Even while talking to wife, kids, and mother-in-law. Connection can be a boon to practice.
  • There's great value in exploring how to find this deep reconnection in the lives that we lead. Let's engage with this challenge. And the resonance that this has on others can be profound. This might be exactly where we need to be.
  • The invitation for today is to explore continuity, stringing together passages of being aware and awake. We are beings that are changing and unfolding all the time. We're threading wakefulness through the varying and challenging conditions of our day.
  • Assumptions can be the biggest obstacle, e.g. "If I were at a retreat centre this would be better."
  • Taking care of the means, sowing seeds: how we are with others has an effect, the seeds we plant in practice have an effect. Never underestimate the effect of a small act of generosity.
  • Jump in. Explore continuity.
  • Sayadaw U Tejaniya on moment-to-moment continuity: "Can you thoroughly understand the whole story if you've missed a couple of episodes?" And I suppose, if we don't bring the practice into our lives and include the difficult, we're not getting the whole picture.
  • Meditation can happen in every posture.
  • Personal observation: I think I was possibly feeling the second type of suffering after lunch. A kind of unease and anxiety, maybe coming up as a result of the practice, being with things as they are, perhaps on some level understanding the changing flow of experience. It settled down with the afternoon meditation.

Day 3: Closing talk

  • Try to keep some of the shape of this container. For example, keep yoniso manasikara going tomorrow. We might notice that we turn these faculties off.
  • Conditions for stream entry:
    • Listening to the teachers
    • Practising the teachings
    • The company of good/wise friends
    • Yoniso manasikara, wise attention (is supported by the previous three).
  • Sitting practice can help us clarify intention. This is the time when we are reconnecting with the intention to practice each day, and then we can go out and practice in every posture.
  • We're taking care of the means of awakening and we're not quite sure when the fruit will come along, but it does come along.
  • There's a lot of this path we walk ourselves but we absolutely need support and community, and input and inspiration from others.
  • Trust your intuition and flow, that felt sense of what's supportive for you.
  • Keep discovering, be a good friend to yourself.