The Mind Illuminated Book Summary/Notes

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Samatha – tranquility/calm abiding

Vipassana – insight

Samadhi – concentration/stable attention

Sati – mindfulness

The untrained mind produces distractions that lead to forgetting, which results in mind-wandering.

Spontaneous introspective awareness – the moment you realize that you’ve stopped focusing on your meditation practice. Appreciating this moment allows it to happen quicker, making mind wandering shorter and sustained attention longer.

You can cultivate this awareness through the practices of labeling and checking in. These techniques allow you to catch distractions before they lead to forgetting.

Intentions repeatedly sustained over the course of many meditation sessions give rise to frequently repeated mental acts, which eventually become habits of the mind.

Set and hold the intention to be vigilant so that introspective awareness becomes continuous, and notice and immediately correct for dullness and distraction.

Attention and peripheral awareness make up conscious experience. Both are worked on to cultivate stable attention and mindfulness, the two main practice objectives of meditation.

Attention is typically something you’re focusing on, singling it out to analyze and interpret, and dominates your experience.

Peripheral awareness is normally in the background, focused on sights, sounds, smells and sensations, providing the overall context for the experience.

Stable attention – being able to choose and focus on an object and keep attention continuously fixed on It.

Repeating simple tasks with a clear intention can reprogram unconscious mental processes.

Mindfulness is the optimal interaction between attention and peripheral awareness.

There’s limited conscious energy, but we can learn to increase it for both attention and peripheral awareness to thrive in.

If the mind is agitated, it doesn’t accurately reflect experience. Instead we’re caught up in projections and lack perspective.

Stage 1

Prior to meditating

-Ask yourself what’s your purpose for meditating. To improve peace of mind, inner calmness, etc?

-What’s your goal for today’s practice? Better control of attention, returning to the object quicker?

-Think about potential distractions and resolve to set them aside if they arise. Just setting this intention will make them easier to handle.

Four Step Transition

Step 1 – focus on the present, sounds and sensations, by opening your peripheral awareness fully. Keep attention on the here and now.

Disregard any thought that has nothing to do with the present moment. Memories and thoughts about the future will naturally occur, and being fully present means being aware of them, but not engaging in them.

Step 2 – focus on bodily sensations exclusively (touch, pressure, warmth, movement, coolness, tingling, etc) and let everything else remain in peripheral awareness. Any sound or thought that arises, return to the body.

Notice any pleasant sensations, distinguishing between the sensation as sensation and your minds reaction to it, and spend a few moments enjoying the pleasure.

If you get distracted or feel restless, return to step 1 by focusing on everything in the present. Then slowly go back to step 2 and focus strictly on bodily sensations.

Step 3 – Focus on bodily sensations related to the breath (nose, face, chest and abdomen). Savor or even purposely induce feelings of peace and happiness.

Step 4 – focus on sensations of the breath at the nose. Wherever the sensations are clearest (just inside the nostrils, tip of the nose, upper lip, etc).

Don’t try to follow the air as it moves into the body or out of your nose, just observe the sensations from the air passing over the spot where you’re focusing your attention. Remember, the meditation object is the sensations of the breath, not the breath itself.

***Counting the breath – once you’ve gone through the first four steps, start silently counting each breath. The goal is to follow the sensations around your nose continuously for ten consecutive breaths, restarting each time your attention slips. (Consider the beginning of the out-breath as the start of the cycle). Once you hit ten, stop counting and focus just on step 4.

Stage 2

Conscious intention and affirmation powerfully influence our unconscious processes.

By savoring and valuing your aha moment (and encouraging yourself to have more of them), you’re training the mind through positive reinforcement to wake you up more quickly in the future. Perform this gently and easily.

Find the beginnings and endings of each part of the breath cycle, and the pauses in between. Then try to observe all these points with equal clarity.

Don’t limit peripheral awareness. To cultivate mindfulness, allow sounds, sensations, thoughts, memories, and feelings to continue in the background.

The best way to avoid or resolve impatience is to enjoy your practice. Focus on the positive. Notice when you feel relaxed or focused, relish in these feelings. Be proud of yourself in your sense of accomplishment, and encourage these feelings to grow stronger.

By making meditation satisfying and enjoyable the mental processes in your mind come into harmony, creating a harmony joy feedback loop which is crucial to achieving unification of mind.

You must cultivate peace, contentment, happiness, and joy at every opportunity.

Success comes through repetition with a relaxed attitude, rather than from effortful striving.

Stage 3

Two types of distractions, subtle and gross.

When less time is spent on the distraction and the meditation object remains the primary focus of attention, it’s called a subtle distraction, as they make up the background of conscious experience.

Subtle distractions are always present.

When a distraction takes center stage, occupying most of your attention/putting the meditation object in the background, it’s called a gross distraction.

Following – discern between the start and end of the in and out breaths as well as both pauses, with equal clarity.

Once done, begin to focus on recognizing the individual sensations that make up each in and out breath. First, carefully observe the sensations between the beginning and end of the in-breath (until you recognize 3-4 distinct sensations every time).

Continue to observe the rest of the breath cycle just as clearly as before.

After you consistently do this, do the same with the out-breath.

You must maintain extrospective awareness during this process.

Connecting – extension of following that involves making comparisons and associations. (Not necessary right now, but simply just asking questions such as is one breath shorter than the other, is the breath shorter or longer when the mind is distracted, etc).

Labeling – A practice to identify the distraction in the very moment you realize you’re no longer on the breath. Give the most recent thought a quick and simple label (thinking, planning, remembering) and then let go of it gently and easily and return to the breath. Avoid analyzing the distraction.

Checking in – during your session turn your attention inward to see what’s happening in the mind, called introspective attention.

This is a key to cultivating introspective awareness, by using attention, making awareness of the minds activity a habit.

Always check in very gently and briefly, to evaluate how much scattering was just occurring. This helps you determine if any distraction is about to turn into a gross distraction. If so, label it and tighten up attention on the breath to prevent forgetting.

The labeling of distractions trains awareness to know which distractions to watch out for in the future when you’re checking in.

This practice of checking in allows you to correct for gross distraction before it causes forgetting. You should check in regularly (every half dozen breaths or so, without counting) until it becomes a habit.

Don’t try to eliminate distractions entirely from awareness. As long as they stay in the background, let them come, let them be, and let them go.

When pain or discomfort becomes too much to ignore make it the focus of your attention. If the urge to move becomes irresistible decide in advance when you will move and what movement you will make, then be very observant as you move.


-Staying mindful means you’re calmer, don’t react so quickly, or be distracted by your own emotions. With mindfulness you recognize more options, make wiser choices, and take control of your behavior.

-when we are mindful (steady dose of both attention and awareness), we provide the unconscious mind with new real time information that is directly relevant to what’s happening right now (this info tells us that it’s normal knee jerk reactions to the situation are harmful and not helping). This allows for reprogramming at the deepest levels of the unconscious.

The longer we can be mindful in a particular situation, the more new info becomes available and the more mindfulness can work its magic.

Consciousness can continue to pick up on and communicate the consequences of the event and their effects on our mental state long afterward.

The duration and consistency are equally important.

Being truly mindful of your actions and their consequences alters how you react in the future. Whenever something triggers one of your invisible programs it’s an opportunity to apply mindfulness.

When your mindful enough in daily life for long and often enough, then consciousness can communicate the actual context and consequences of your conditioned reactions to their unconscious sources. This produces real change.

Stage 4

Need to start emphasizing the introspective part of peripheral awareness. It’s like standing back a bit from the meditation object, just enough to keep the breath at the center of attention while taking in everything else happening in the mind.

Connecting – observe changes in the breath over time and how those changes correspond to shifts in your state of mind (when there’s more or less subtle distraction/dullness)

Become aware of the activities/mental processes of the mind itself and how it behaves: movements of attention, the way thoughts, feelings and other mental objects arise and pass away in peripheral awareness, and any changes in the clarity or vividness of perception.

By using the breath as an anchor while you mindfully observe the mind, you’re “watching the mind while the mind watches the breath.” This is called metacognitive introspective awareness.

Whenever you can’t disregard a powerful distraction, finesse the situation by intentionally making it your new meditation object.

Whenever you judge instead of just observing, mindfulness is less effective. By simply allowing material from the unconscious to come up, by mindfully bearing witness and not reacting, you reprogram the mind more deeply than you ever could through intellectual analysis.

Fourth interlude

Experience is divided into individual moments of conscious.

We can only be conscious of information coming from one sense organ at a time. Moments of seeing are distinct from moments of hearing/smelling. Therefore each is a separate mental event with its own unique content.

Each moment of consciousness is like a freeze frame, nothing changes.

Ordinary consciousness includes a significant proportion of non perceived mind moments. The more of these you have, the more you’ll have in subsequent moments.

Most moments of consciousness are moments of attention with the breath as their object, but others have knee pain or thoughts about lunch as their object.

Attention isn’t actually moving between a breath and these distractions. Successive moments of attention hold different objects. Interspersed among these moments of attention are moments of peripheral awareness of other bodily sensations, sounds, thoughts, and emotions, creating the background.

A strong intention to perceive in every moment of consciousness is the real antidote to dullness in meditation.

Stage five

Focus on the sensations around the surface of the abdominal region, not just the concepts of expansion.

Once established, choose an isolated area of the body away from the abdomen to focus attention on and examine all the sensations in that area, specifically those connected to the breath. Keep sensations of the breath at the abdomen in peripheral awareness.

Repeat this to a broader area (half foot to full foot, upper arm to entire arm and hands).

Fifth interlude – the mind system

Two main parts – conscious mind and unconscious mind

The conscious mind is not the source of its content. It’s more like a space or a screen into which the unconscious sub minds project their information and intentions.

The unconscious mind is divided into two major parts, sensory mind (taste, touch, smell, etc) and discriminating mind (thinking, emotional, reasoning/analysis), which produces moments of consciousness with mental objects. Each are composed of many individual sub minds that function automatically and simultaneously.

The conscious mind is like a boardroom, where all sub minds can communicate through.

The conscious mind acts as a universal recipient of information from these sub minds, but also as a universal source of information in that when one sub mind sends its info to the conscious mind, that information becomes available to all unconscious sub minds, allowing them to interact/communicate with each other through the conscious mind.

The collective interaction of sub minds and its resulting outcome is the executive function process.

Instead of immediately identifying with anger, if there’s some hesitation (because you remember to observe the situation mindfully) the delay allows information from other sub minds to rise into the conscious mind, offering different courses of action.

Conscious intentions that are repeatedly acted upon eventually give rise to automatic actions that no longer require conscious intention.

The narrating mind (sub mind in the discriminating mind) takes in all of the content in consciousness from all other sub minds, and constantly processes/organizes it. It then projects the information back as a binding moment of consciousness, becoming available to the rest of the mind system.

There is no “I” or “self” as an entity, just many unconscious sub minds exchanging information via the conscious mind.

The experience of consciousness itself is the result of the shared receptivity of unconscious sub-minds to the content passing through the conscious mind.

Stage six

Conscious intention is the key to developing exclusive attention (several sub minds agreeing to the intention, making it stronger and more effective). Simply hold the intention to observe all the fine details of the meditation object and ignore everything else.

Define your scope of attention much more precisely (a specific area + exclusively the breath sensations of that area) and ignore all other sensations from attention, allowing them to remain in peripheral awareness.

Keep increasing the scope of attention to include larger areas, while alternating between large and small areas, until you expand attention to include the entire body.

After a while shift focus back to the breath at the nose (or shift attention first to the abdomen then the nose). When exclusive focus fades, repeat the exercise of experiencing the whole body with the breath.

You don’t have to go part by part through the entire body each time (you can do it all at once) unless it’s helpful.

You create exclusive single pointed attention not by shrinking your attention down to a small point, but by expanding it to focus on the entire bodies sensations so there’s no room for distracting thoughts and other mental objects.

Metacognitive introspective awareness is cultivated by being aware of the ongoing activities of the mind (what attention is doing/being directed at/changes of objects) and by the state of mind (clarity, happy, impatient, etc).

The more intention you put towards increasing this awareness, the more availability there is in consciousness to achieve it.

Jhana- a shift in mental state when your mind slips into a groove and “flow” occurs for a little while.

Sixth interlude

Pacification of the sense comes from consistently ignoring sensory information presented in awareness. Sensory subminds eventually stop projecting their content into consciousness.

Stage 7

By enjoying the experience of exclusive attention (through constant repetition), the executive functions are overriding the intentions of other sub minds, which trains those sub minds to adopt the intention to be vigilant and immediately correct for distractions.

It becomes effortless to sustain exclusive attention because the sub minds are as active as ever/actively participating in the intention to sustain it.

If you feel doubtful, stuck and restless cultivate an attitude of acceptance and patience. Take as much satisfaction as possible in how far you’ve come and remind yourself of the rewards that will surely follow if you continue.

Walking meditation

Stage 1

-Focus on sensations in your feet as you walk, use this as your anchor when you get distracted

-Intentionally allow the mind to observe whatever is in the present

Stage 2 and 3

-Complete one full step before lifting up your back foot, focusing attention on sensations in the moving foot.

-Stop walking when you get distracted in your head and label it.

-When an outside object gets your attention, stop and focus on it. Be alert to the way you react to things.

The idea is to maintain intentional control over the movements of attention so you take in the totality of experience.

-Check in periodically to examine one of the three sensory fields, sound, visual, or body sensations.

-Limit verbal self talk, focus on being in the present silently.

Stage 4 and 5

-don’t stop walking for distractions, continue to examine them if you want and maintain an awareness of the walking sensations in the background

-when attention is stable, stop as you please to freely investigate your surroundings.

-observe and investigate visuals, sounds and sensations. Look at things close and far, how clear or less clear they are. Hear things close and far, how clear things become when you focus on them and others get pushed to the side.

-notice the difference between hearing the sound and identifying it. Practice hearing separately from identifying. Investigate without analyzing.

Achieve Limitless Success, Happiness and Gratitude

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