Meditation + Talk: From Autonomic to Volitional Attention
May 10, 2024

At the heart of meditation is the work of retraining our attention. Because attention is in service to the autonomic nervous system — which is devoted to keeping our body safe — it habitually scans the environment for danger. Even in the absence of danger, attention follows intensity. So in meditation, emotionally-charged thinking will always be more compelling than the relatively neutral experience of the body or the breath. 

Sean Feit Oakes, PhD began the evening with conversation about bringing the radical egalitarian compassion of the Buddha to the wars in Gaza and elsewhere. After the meditation, he talked about the challenge of extending the heart of compassion even to people who cause terrible harm.

In the talk, Sean looked at the quality of attention and how meditation and mindfulness are trainings in volitional attention. He compared distracting thought to emotionally-manipulating film music, and training in mindfulness to training in music that enables us to resist the manipulation of our own inner commentary. 


Download the Audio of this Meditation


Download the Audio of this Talk

Sean Oakes, PhD (he/him, queer, of Spanish/Puerto Rican and Northern European ancestry living on unceded Pomo land in California), teaches Buddhism, Yoga, and somatic practice. He received teaching authorization from Jack Kornfield, wrote his dissertation on extraordinary states in Buddhist meditation and experimental dance, and focuses on the integration of philosophy, somatics, and social justice discourse with the Dharma. He teaches at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, East Bay Meditation Center, Insight Timer, and elsewhere.

These teachings are offered freely, at no charge. 

And if you like, you may wish to participate in the age-old tradition of generosity through making an offering yourself – called “dāna” – to support Rick and the Wednesday Meditations. Generosity itself is a beautiful practice that opens and gladdens the heart, relaxes the contraction of “self,” and ripples out into the world to touch many people – and perhaps, eventually, even oneself. 

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These teachings are offered freely.

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