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I have been practicing a path that may be too advanced for me, in that I'm not even sure if I'm doing it properly. It is a path outlined by Alan Wallace in one of his retreats.

The following is the relevant portion from the podcast transcript (it's a transcript of Session 1 - Settling the Body, Speech and Mind in its Natural State, from Fall 2014 Shamatha, Vipashyana, Dream Yoga, and the Experience of Pristine Awareness in the Great Perfection Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism):

"[15:40] Then we turn to settling the mind in its natural state....Just for the duration of this session let your awareness come to rest in stillness and in its own natural clarity in the present moment.
[17:23] Now cultivate this ability of letting your awareness rest in its own place, holding its own ground, which means not directing your attention to anything, neither to any sensory impression nor to thoughts, images, other mental activities or even to the space of the mind, no directionality, no target. Just let your awareness rest in its own nature without meditating on anything, without doing anything. Simply being present.
[18:42] Sustain this flow of present centered mindfulness, a mindful presence without distraction, without being carried away, without letting your awareness be set into motion obsessively. Sustain the flow of mindful presence without distraction and without grasping, without latching onto any object, either subjective or objective. Simply be present. Whatever thoughts come up just let them be without perpetuating them or grasping onto them, without following them. Simply let them dissolve of their own accord back into the space of the mind.
[21:06] And now within this context explicitly be aware of something you are probably already implicitly aware of and that is namely the rhythm of the breath. Without explicitly directing your attention to the sensations of the breath throughout the body simply continue to rest your awareness in its own state. Within that simple presence, awareness resting in its own place, take note of the duration of each in breath, each out breath, whether it is long or short. And let’s continue practicing in silence."

So this is how I am viewing it. I am combining awareness (mindfulness of my thoughts with introspection) with mindfulness of the duration of in/out breaths. When thoughts arise, they are mindfully observed, but not viewed as an interruption of mindfulness of breathing. When no thoughts are in mind, focus shifts to the mindfulness of breathing.

So it seems to me a like a very flexible model. No preference is given to mindfulness of thoughts or of breathing. Rather, the instruction seems to be just be mindful of either one, depending on the random rise and fall of thoughts. Mindfulness of breathing seems like a place-holder for attention when no thoughts are in mind.

Is this right?

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I am combining awareness (mindfulness of my thoughts with introspection) with mindfulness of the duration of in/out breaths.

This is right. Anapanasati Sutta mentions about discerning long or short breaths as the 2nd step in the 1st triad.

When thoughts arise, they are mindfully observed, but not viewed as an interruption of mindfulness of breathing.

Realising that thoughts arisen itself sometimes bring you mind back. If not 1st be aware of the through and breath. Then look for any sensation that the thoughts might have brought, e.g. discomfort if they were angry thoughts. Finally actively redirect you mind to the chosen object.

When no thoughts are in mind, focus shifts to the mindfulness of breathing.

Initially you have to keep brining back you mind to the breath even if it does not wander away.

Mindfulness of breathing seems like a place-holder for attention when no thoughts are in mind.

This is how some meditation master teach this, but thinking and pondering is verbal fabrication which need also be calmed. [Samma,ditthi Sutta]

Also the following might be of interest: Anapanasati: Mindfulness with Breathing - Unveiling the Secrets of Life by Ven Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

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I find the instruction confusing & contradicted because, to practise this advanced level of practise, there should be no (problematic/hindering) thoughts. The contradictions possibly arise because Wallace, as a professional Western teacher, does not want to alienate his audience.

In my opinion, 'thoughts' should not be mentioned since the instruction begins with: "let your awareness come to rest in stillness and in its own natural clarity".

In addition, 'explicitly be aware of something' & 'take note of the duration of each in breath, each out breath" should not be mentioned, since the instruction states: " without explicitly directing your attention to the sensations of the breath".

There is no need for Wallace to make the dichotomy of 'explicitly' & 'implicitly' because this confuses the meditation.

The meditation is to rest the mind in a silent natural state. In other words, in accordance with the instructions of the Buddha, the meditation is to establish the mind in a state free from craving.

When this is done, awareness of the breath will come to dominate the awareness of the mind because, in a state of silence, the breath is automatically the grossest sense object.

Even the slightest effort to 'bend' the mind towards the breath will defeat the purpose of the meditation & defeat the progress to jhana.

The Buddha taught:

There is the case where a monk develops mindfulness as a factor for awakening dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion (non-craving), dependent on cessation, that manifests as relinquishment (letting go).

Anapanasati Sutta

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And what is the faculty of concentration? There is the case where a noble disciple, making it his object to let go, attains concentration, attains singleness of mind. Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters & remains in the first jhana...

Indriya-vibhanga Sutta

This PDF may be helpful.


Note: The word 'mindfulness' ('sati') does not mean 'awareness'. There is no such thing as being 'mindful of thoughts' or 'mindful of breathing'. 'Mindfulness' means 'to remember'. Remembering to keep the mind in a state of silent awareness, free from craving, is the practise of 'mindfulness'. Remembering to let go of attachment to objects (such as attachment to thoughts or attachment to breathing or attachment to progress) is the practise of mindfulness. The term 'anapanasati' means 'mindfulness with breathing' or 'mindfulness when breathing' rather than 'mindfulness of breathing'. These distinctions are crucial for understanding practise as this advanced level.

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