When you are looking for simplification one thing that can be done is:
- look for recurring patterns in concepts
- look for factors and common concepts
- look for relationships between each concept or how the dots connect
When you look for where to start look for:
- factor which is common to many concepts
- factor which if a forerunner of other factors within the concept or ties the concept together or is a pivotal factor
Following is an analysis on finding the simple common factors which is also a forerunner of within many concepts:
Firstly the four foundations of mindfulness
One of the shorted rendering of them is as follows:
(1) having put away covetousness and displeasure in the world, a monk dwells exertive, fully aware, mindful, contemplating body in the body.
(2) Having put away covetousness and displeasure in the world, he dwells exertive, fully aware, mindful, contemplating feeling in the feelings.
(3) Having put away covetousness and displeasure in the world, he dwells exertive, fully aware, mindful, contemplating mind in the mind.
(4) Having put away covetousness and displeasure in the world, he dwells exertive, fully aware, mindful, contemplating phenomena [dharmas] in the phenomena.
Sacca Vibhanga Sutta and also similar passage is found in (Magga) Vibhaṅga Sutta
One of the recurring elements here is putting away covetousness and displeasure in the world which is the task at hand. In addition you have to put effort to that task and also you should not have a lapse of mindfulness when doing this task, otherwise you will not attend to it and perhaps do something else.
Covetousness and displeasure are result of mental reaction to sensations:
(1) the latent tendency to lust reinforced by being attached to pleasant feelings;
(2) the latent tendency to aversion reinforced by rejecting painful feelings;
(3) the latent tendency to ignorance reinforced by ignoring neutral feelings.
To prevent your mental reaction to sensation becoming unwholesome you can try:
“Nothing is worth clinging to”
When this was said, the venerable Mahā Moggallāna said this to the Blessed One:
“In what way, bhante, in brief, is a monk freed through the destruction of craving, that is, one who has reached total perfection, the total security from bondage, the total holy life, the total consummation, the highest amongst gods and humans?”
“Here, Moggallāna, the monk has learned that nothing is worth clinging to.
And, Moggallāna, a monk has learned that nothing is worth clinging to, thus: he directly knows all things [he directly knows the nature of the all].
Having directly known the nature of all things, he fully understands all
Having fully understood all things, he knows whatever feelings there are, whether pleasant, painful or neither painful nor pleasant.
As regards to those feelings, [Section on Disillusionment and Revulsion (Nibbida) follows]
he dwells contemplating impermanence in them;
he dwells contemplating dispassion [fading away of lust] in them;
he dwells contemplating ending (of suffering) in them;
he dwells contemplating letting go (of defilements).
When he dwells contemplating impermanence in them, contemplating dispassion in them, contemplating ending in them, contemplating letting go, he does not cling to anything in the world.
Not clinging, he is not agitated; being not agitated, he himself surely attains nirvana.
my attention is pulled in all different directions so that I never get anything done
Now when distractions arise. How to deal with them and keep your focus on your meditation is as follows:
- 1st you should realise you mind has wandered away
- Whatever of the 6 sense faculties your mind has wandered to, there will be a sensation. [Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta] Stay with this sensation without further aversion or craving knowing the sensation, looking at its changing nature and impermanence. Non reactively waiting with the sensation will make the intensity of the die down faster and will not be a distraction again. It will be the irritation or pleasantness of the experience that keeps your mind to jump to these sensations, again, if it is intense and you prematurely bring your attention to the object of focus`, you may get distracted again.
- Then bring back you mind to object of mediation
- Actively try to retain your mind with the object
- further up the above 2 activities when you mind tend to stick to the meditation object you are calming the Verbal Fabrication
Also see Saṅkhitta Dhamma Sutta which describes the latter steps. This is also described the Jhana factors.
Vitakka Saṇṭhāna Sutta deals with a more broader spectrum of distracting thoughts which are unwholesome which you can apply in daily situations.
Noble 8 Fold Path
Being contemplation of impermanence while being equanimous, as given in Pacalā Sutta quote above, gives rise to wise attention this is fore runner of the Noble 8 Fold Path as in Yoniso Manasikāra Sampadā Sutta. If the number of steps overwhelm you you can look at in terms of the 3 Fold Training which are:
- higher virtue (adhisīla-sikkhā)
- higher mind (adhicitta-sikkhā)
- higher wisdom (adhipaññā-sikkhā)
When you develop the path you get Disillusionment and Revolutions (Nibbida) towards the 5 aggregates. A normal worldling would get attached to the 5 aggregates. When you develop revolutions towards it the 5 Aggregates which you cling to as would become indifferent in your mind and you would not cling to them as self.
The goal of Metta meditation is to develop friendly feeling towards all living beings.
This is achieved by breaking down the mental classification you have towards individual beings or classes of them into groups which you deem favorable, unfavorable or neutral and reacting to them with pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feeling associated with each classification. One such classification systems would be me, beings I like, neutral or unknown beings and being you do not like. When you break down the classification you will like everyone like yourself. Another classification could be same country, neutral country and enemy country. When you break down the mental classification system you will love everyone as your fellow country men. Another classification could be higher life forms, lower life forms and same level life forms. When you break down this classification you will love all living beings equally.
When you classify if a being is from a favorable category you react with pleasant sensation, unfavorable category with unpleasant sensation and neutral category with unpleasant sensations. These sensation lead to the unwholesome roots of craving for the favorable and pleasant, aversion towards the unfavorable and unpleasant and ignorance towards the neutral, as discussed in the Pahāna Sutta. When such reaction stops you stop creating negative mental states and come out of misery.
In order to develop Metta you should wish every one in every category you can imagine to be well and happy. Also know how the classifications are woulding in the back of your mind and know mental reaction and sensation. Try to be equanimous knowing the changes and and arising and passing nature of the sensations.
Once the favorable and unfavorable categorisations are broken you do not despair if you meet with non loved one and with equanimity you do not attached to others. Others cannot cause you stress.
Sometimes I suppose I notice a pain in the knee
When you notice sensation notice how it's spread out, any variations and how it ends. There might be times where new sensations of experiences start. Look at the start, evolution and change and the end of the experience. Doing this you see impermanence and arising and passing nature of the experience.
As such, bhikshus, the instructed noble disciple closely and wisely attends to dependent arising itself, thus:
Imasmiṁ sati, idaṁ hoti; "When this is, that is;
imass’uppādā, idam uppajjati. with the arising of this, that arises.
Imasmiṁ asati idaṁ na hoti; When this is not, that is not;
imassa nirodhā idaṁ nirujjhati. with the ending of this, that ends."
Bhikshus, dependent on pleasant contact, a pleasant feeling arises. With the ending of the pleasant contact, the pleasant feeling that arose in dependent on that pleasant contact, ceases, is stilled.
Bhikshus, dependent on painful contact, a painful feeling arises. With the ending of the painful contact, the painful feeling that arose in dependent on that painful contact, ceases, is stilled.
Bhikshus, dependent on neutral contact, a neutral feeling arises. With the ending of the neutral contact, the neutral feeling that arose in dependent on that neutral contact, ceases, is stilled.
Assutava Sutta 2
Where to start without worrying about different things
The main thing is to establish wise attention. The easiest way to do this is to note impermanence (arising and passing) and be equanimous. If you examine all the other concepts above, this is one of the most recurring concept and thread. When wise attention is established rest of the path with will slowly start falling into place, as this is a gradual training.
Also know what is unwise attention which is covered in this answer.
To get right of the distracting thoughts you can practice some of the methods given in Vitakka Saṇṭhāna Sutta or try to focus your mind on an object and also work actively to retaining it as the focus by bringing you mind to it periodically. The 4 Sathipattana or 4 Brahmavihara as in Saṅkhitta Dhamma Sutta which is also a summary of the Dhamma in short.