How to Make Your Gurus Head Spin: Tell Him About Feedback

By admin / January 7, 2011
By: Carol E. McMahon, Ph.D.
Category: Meditation

The temple was crowded; the Indian stick dance about to begin. I stood chatting with a meditation teacher, formerly an engineer. His own practice, he complained, was heavily burdened by a wandering mind.

He wasn’t alone here. The same complaint echoes through the centuries. “Restless man’s mind… How shall he tame it? Truly I think the wind is no wilder.” We’ve always assumed this problem had no solution, but we’ve been wrong.

I had an answer for the Guru. As dancers gathered round I told him a surprisingly simple fix for his wandering problem. I explained why meditation needs feedback.

Why Meditation Needs Feedback

The feedback solution appears when you see meditation from a new perspective. My background in psychology let me see it in the context of skill-learning. Skill learning requires feedback - something meditation lacks.

To perform well at any skill you need to see what you are doing: you need information; knowledge of results. In darts for instance, you need to see if you’re on target in order to correct you aim. The rule applies equally to meditation. Practice makes perfect only with guidance from feedback.

Practice Makes Perfect Only With Feedback

The skill involved in meditation is attention. All forms of meditation focus attention (on mantras, candles, etc) to bring results. Why then if attention is called for, do we constantly drift away? It’s because we can’t see what we are doing. Attention slips away unseen. Meditation lacks a way to monitor attention. It needs attention feedback.

In meditation, as in darts, you need to know you’re on target. You need to be alerted to wandering off. Where can you find this information? Where can you find feedback signals? The surprising answer: right before your eyes! (Now here’s the part that makes the head spin.) Feedback has been there, seen but unrecognized, since the ancient practice began. It comes in the form of light.

Light Signals: The Feedback Meditation Needs

If you meditate with open eyes you may have seen a glimmer or brightening of the room. It’s a common experience. This light has symbolic meaning for us: we’re becoming enlightened, but we’ve never known its physical basis or cause. When we do, we find the feedback meditation needs.

Light seen in meditation is caused by attention itself. It’s seen when attention is good, which holds the eyes steady, keeping the image in the same place on the retinas. This uses up photo pigment, causing distortion in the form of light. Light sensations mean you’re on target. They are attention feedback. Here’s how it works.

Seeing light confirms attention. That’s positive feedback. The instant your mind wanders, your eyes wander and the light vanishes. That’s negative feedback. Positive and negative feedback give all the guidance needed to stay on target. Instead of wandering you go straight to your goal.

So Simple It Makes Your Head Spin

The engineer clearly understood the feedback solution. As I spoke his eyes widened; his jaw dropped. He said nothing. Astonishment was his only response. How could we possibly have missed a solution right before our eyes!

Loud music sounded and revels swirled round us, still he stood. Several minutes later he was there still. He may have been thinking this through, realizing how feedback upgrades meditation.

How Feedback Upgrades Meditation

Feedback eliminates the shortfalls of traditional meditation methods. These are: (1) unproductive practice time; (2) slow practice skill development and (3) slow, unreliable progress. Feedback is the fix for all three.

* Unproductive practice time

Without guidance from feedback, even with the best intentions practice time is spent dreaming and drifting when you'd hoped for attention. Now, no practice time need be lost.

* Slow (or even no) practice skill development

With traditional methods, practice skill - your power of attention, is slow to develop. ("After twenty years," warned a Zen Master, "you can finally say you've begun to learn how to sit.") Without feedback you might get even less effective with practice.

* Slow, unreliably progress

Traditional methods yield slow, unreliable progress. (“Just sit," says Buddhist tradition, "maybe after many lifetimes you will come upon the truth.") Without feedback there’s no guaranteed return on invested time. This drawback too ends when feedback lights your way.

Light Your Way With Feedback

With feedback, you can make every second of practice time count. Simply by attending, you power of concentration builds. Feedback makes you sure of success.

Put the light to use and practice does make perfect. You can raise expectations; set higher goals. For the first time, you can hold on to and sustain attention. Beginner or Guru, you can light your own way.

Meditation teacher and author Carol E. McMahon, Ph.D. (and contributor: Master Deac Cataldo), cordially invite you to experience meditation’s full potential at Sample enlightenment self-tests at

Article Source: How to Make Your Gurus Head Spin: Tell Him About Feedback
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