The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa (John Yates)

The Mind Illuminated combines neuroscience and meditation to give the reader an in-depth look at how the mind works. Implementing this knowledge has led to breakthroughs in my meditation practice and could do the same for you. If you want to gain wisdom and insight into the workings of your mind I highly recommend checking this book out.




-Samatha (tranquility or calm abiding)
-Vipassana (Insight)
-Samadhi (concentration or stable attention)
-Sati (mindfulness)
-Awakening is a cognitive event, the culminating insight in a series of very special insights called Vipassana
-The climax of the progress of insight only occurs when the mind is in a unique mental state Samatha
-Samatha and vipassana are both generated  using stable attention (samadhi) and mindfulness (sati)
-You can cultivate Samatha or vipassana independently of one another, both are necessary for awakening
Samadhi + Sati lead to Samatha (effortless attention & Mindfulness + Joy + Tranquility + Equanimity)
-Awakening is an accident, but continued practice will make you accident-prone.
-All we’re “doing” in meditation is forming and holding specific conscious intention
-Intentions lead to mental actions and repeated mental actions become mental habits

First Interlude – Conscious Experience and the Objectives of Meditation 

-In meditation, we work with both attention and peripheral awareness to cultivate stable attention and mindfulness
-The bad meditation session is the one you didn’t do
-Stable attention is the ability to intentionally direct and sustain the focus of attention, as well as to control the scope of attention.
-Attention translates our raw experience of the world into terms we can more easily understand, which we then organize into a picture of reality.
-The condition in which the mind “stands back” to observe its own state and activities is called metacognitive introspective awareness.
-We have a chronic lack of awareness due to overusing attention
-Consistently neglecting peripheral awareness in favor of attention eventually stunts the faculty of awareness
-To make consciousness more powerful you simply practice sustaining attention and peripheral attention simultaneously

Stage one – Establishing a practice 

Six-point preparation for meditation
1.Remind yourself what your reason for meditating is
2. Choose a small reasonable goal for each session
3.Relax expectations
4.Commit to diligence
5.Review potential distraction
6.Adjust your posture

-mindfully observing thoughts is tricky, so it’s better to focus on sounds, snells, and physical sensations to avoid being hooked by thoughts
-You can use counting to help stay focused…. count after the out breathe during the pause to maintain your attention
-Don’t count beyond 10 breathes as counting can become automatic and you can get lost in thought

Second interlude – The Hindrances and problems 

-Five hindrances: worldly desire, aversion, laziness and lethargy, agitation due to worry or remorse, and doubt.
-Five meditation factors: directed attention, Sustained Attention, Meditative Joy, pleasure/Happiness, and Unification of Mind.
-Worldly desire is when we pursue, delight in, and cling to the pleasures of material existence.
-Meditation doesn’t involve repressing worldly desires. It gives us direct, experiential insight into the many ways that desire leads to pain and anxiety. The opposite is non-grasping and equanimity.
-As the mind becomes unified, worldly desire weakens and eventually disappears, not only during meditation but from daily life as well.
—Aversion is a negative mental state involving resistance.
-You will learn to replace Aversion with loving-kindness, compassion, and harmlessness.
-Laziness mostly appears as procrastination.  Its counterpart, Lethargy, is a tendency toward inactivity, rest, and ultimately sleep.
-Laziness serves the purpose to conserve our energy for activities that contribute to happiness, survival and reproductive success. It also motivates us to use our skills and intelligence to come up with easier ways of doing things.
-There are two antidotes for laziness and lethargy. The first is to motivate yourself by thinking about future rewards. The second is just do it.
-Directed attention becomes powerful and automatic enough to completely overcome Laziness and Lethargy.
-Agitation due to worry or remorse may arise when we’re conflicted about the past or concerned about the future.
-Doubt is healthy and valuable when it motivates us to question, investigate, and try things for ourselves. It keeps us from blindly accepting what others say or what seems true, and from being misled and taken advantage of.
-Once the mind decides a situation should be examined more closely, the emotion of doubt becomes part of conscious experience.
-We can never succeed at any difficult task if we simply abandon whatever makes us uncertain
-The ultimate remedy for Doubt is the trust and confidence that come from success, and success depends on persistent effort.

The Seven Problems  
1.Procrastination and resistance to practicing
2.Distractions, forgetting, and mind-wandering
6.Dullness, drowsiness, and falling asleep
7.Physical discomfort
-When you achieve stage ten, these hindrances are completely overcome, absent from both meditation and daily life.

Stage two – Interrupted Attention and Overcoming Mind-Wandering

-Address mind-wandering with positive reinforcement, learning to truly appreciate the moment you “wake up” to the fact that attention strayed.
-Alternating attention scans these distractions for something more interesting, important, exciting, intense, or novel. Interest and importance are judged according to the perceived ability to increase pleasure or decrease pain, cause happiness or unhappiness, or improve or threaten your physical well-being.
-Selective pressures have favored spontaneously moving attention more strongly than stable attention.
-Waking up is an unconscious process but can be trained through conscious intention and affirmation.
-By valuing the moment of waking up you’re training the mind through positive reinforcement to wake you up more quickly in the future.
-It doesn’t matter that your mind wandered. What’s important is that you realized it.
-To become annoyed or self-critical in the “aha!” moment will slow down your progress.
-In this stage, it doesn’t matter if the breath is at the center of attention or somewhere in the background.
-There is no self in control of the mind, and therefore nobody to blame
-The antidote that calms monkey-mind is to become “grounded in the body”
-The basic rule for training the mind in meditation is to always intentionally select the locus of attention. (Intentionally choose the area you want attention restricted to)

Stage three – Extended Continuity of Attention and Overcoming Forgetting 

-You have mastered stage three when you no longer forget the breath
-a subtle distraction is one that arises in the background but doesn’t take your primary focus of attention away
-A gross distraction is one that takes the primary stage of attention causing your meditation object to slip into the background
-Subtle distractions are always present. When one of them becomes a gross distraction, if it occupies attention strongly enough or long enough, you forget about the meditation.
-To overcome forgetting, you first need to extend periods of stable attention by actively engaging the breath, so you can look into your mind and see what’s happening.
-Extended periods of attention and introspective awareness allow you to correct for distractions before they cause forgetting
-Focus on more subtle sensations of breathing trying to notice 3 to 4 with each in and out breath
-Emphasizing both attention and peripheral awareness at the same time increases the total power of consciousness.
-As you follow the entire breath cycle, begin connecting by observing the two pauses closely and notice which is longer and which is shorter. Keep comparing the pauses and notice if they change.
-As you progress start to notice if the breathe changes due to different mental states
-To strengthen introspective awareness, use labeling to practice identifying the distraction in the very moment you realize you’re no longer on the breath.
-Labeling … practice identifying the distraction with a quick and simple label then let go of the distraction and return to the breath.
-Instead of waiting for introspective awareness to arise spontaneously, check-in periodically using introspective attention.

Third interlude – How Mindfulness Works 

-The person you are today was shaped by your past. Imprints of past experiences exert a powerful but unconscious influence on your thoughts, emotions, and behavior in the present.
-Mindfully acknowledging our emotions and taking responsibility for our reactions lets us recognize more options, choose wiser responses, and take control of our behavior.
-Whenever some event triggers one of our “invisible programs,” we have the chance to apply mindfulness to the situation so our unconscious conditioning can get reprogrammed. Anytime we’re truly mindful of our reactions and their consequences, it can alter the way we will react in the future.
-The reprogramming that occurs in meditation also transforms the way we think, feel, and act in more radical and broadly effective ways. That’s because the unconscious conditioning that emerges is of a more fundamental nature, driving a wide range of reactive behaviors that would otherwise require many different triggering events. Conditioning of such a fundamental nature usually remains deeply hidden but can surface in the stillness of meditation. Therefore, the application of mindfulness in meditation can rapidly accomplish much more than ever could be by the piecemeal process of confronting conditioning in daily life.
-The craving to avoid suffering and pursue pleasure is the actual cause of suffering

Stage 4 – Continuous Attention and Overcoming Gross Distraction and Strong Dullness 

-The goal for Stage 4 is to overcome gross distraction and strong dullness. Set and hold the intention to be vigilant so that introspective awareness becomes continuous, and notice and immediately correct for strong dullness and gross distraction. Eventually, noticing and correcting become completely automatic.
-You will learn to tolerate and even make use of subtle distractions and subtle dullness. They will help you navigate another important challenge of this stage: learning to identify and sustain a balance between an over-energized, easily distracted mind and a dull, lethargic mind.
-Recognize when a gross distraction is present, let go of it, and re-engage with the breath
-Recognize when a subtle distraction has the potential to become a gross distraction before it happens. Then tighten up your focus on the breath so the subtle distraction doesn’t draw you away. Finally, engage with the breath more completely to keep it and all other distractions at bay.
-Introspective attention can only produce a conceptual snapshot of what was just happening, a kind of delay or echo, whereas introspective awareness is capable of continuously monitoring the mind.
-A happy mind is a more focused mind. Annoyance and self-judgment are something you have to let go of. By affirming your successes, you make quicker progress.
S= P x R …. The amount of suffering you experience is equal to the actual pain multiplied by the mind’s resistance to that pain.
-If you have the thought, “I am angry”, replace it with the thought, “Anger is arising.”
-Antidotes for dullness include deep breathe out through pursued lips, squeezing and releasing all the muscles and sucking in your gut while releasing the perineum.

Fourth Interlude – The Moments of Consciousness Model 

-Our experience of the world seems to be a cohesive steady flow but it is actually divided into individual moments of consciousness.
-Binding moments are integrated perceptions combining information from the other six senses to produce complex representations of what’s happening within and around us.
-Non-perceiving mind moments are potential rather than actual moments of consciousness. No perception occurs because none of the sense organs provides them with any content. But nevertheless, they are real mental events, replacing perceiving moments of consciousness, and they are associated with a feeling of pleasure.
-The greater the proportion of non-perceiving mind moments in a given period, the more dullness we experience.
-Intention plays an important role in each moment of consciousness: it determines the objects of subsequent moments of consciousness
-The stronger your intention to attend to something, the more moments of attention are focused on that object. The lack of intention in non-perceiving mind moments leads to more non-perceiving mind moments and increased dullness.
-Mindfulness is the optimal interaction between moments of attention and moments of awareness to gradually develop stable attention
-we are mindful when the balance between moments of attention and moments of awareness is just right. Whenever we lose this balance, we lose mindfulness.

Stage 5 – Overcoming subtle dullness and increasing Mindfulness 

-Subtle dullness has three characteristics
1.Vividness and clarity of the meditation object decline
2.Both extrospective and introspective peripheral awareness fade
3.There is a comfortable, relaxed, and pleasant feeling.
-When subtle dullness deepens, your field of conscious awareness shrinks
-If some disturbance like an unexpected sound causes you to jerk or feel inwardly startled then dullness was probably present
-The more mindful you are in the moment, the more difficult it is to be either startled or Surprised
-Hold the intention to remain continuously aware of what’s happening in the mind, moment by moment.
-Intentionally cultivating vigilant introspective awareness doesn’t just help you detect subtle dullness. It’s an antidote as well.
-follow the sensations of the breath while intending to perceive the details as clearly and vividly as possible.
-It’s especially important to connect changes in the breath with the degree of alertness or dullness of the mind.
-Another way to counter subtle dullness is by expanding the scope of your attention to include the sensations of the body.
-Whenever you find your scope of attention expanding on it’s own, look inward to see if there’s subtle dullness.
-Use the body scan when subtle distractions aren’t too strong or numerous, and when your perception of the meditation object and peripheral awareness are both fairly clear.
-You’ve mastered this stage when you’re able to consistently sustain a high level of intense and clear perception — of both attention and introspective awareness — during most or all of your session.

fifth interlude – The Mind-System 

-All moments of consciousness have intentions associated with them — intentions that we may experience consciously as an impulse toward some mental, verbal, or physical action.
-The unconscious part of the mind-system is divided into two major parts: the sensory mind and the discriminating mind.
-The sensory mind processes information from the five physical senses.
-The discriminating mind, the greater part of which is called the thinking/emotional mind, produces moments of consciousness with mental objects, such as thoughts and emotions. It’s the part of the mind where reasoning and analysis occur.
-Whenever a reflex motor response is programmed to a particular stimulus, the sensory sub-mind involved will automatically initiate the response.
-The discriminating mind has sub-minds each of which evaluates new information and produces hedonic feelings of pleasure or displeasure in response.
-Hedonic feelings in turn trigger craving in the form of desire or aversion.
-All of this becomes the source of intentions that produce mental, verbal, and physical actions in attempt to satisfy desire and aversion
-Not all discriminating sub-minds are created equal
-At the top are sub-minds in charge of things like personal values, self-image, and weighing consequences.
-The conscious mind can be regarded as a space where things happen.
-Everything that appears in consciousness — decisions, intentions, actions, and even the sense of self — actually comes from the unconscious mind.
-When that content is consistently dismissed or ignored by executive functions, it will eventually stop being presented to the conscious mind.
-Many different sub-minds participate in the process of deciding between conflicting intentions.
-We can program unconscious sub-minds through conscious intention
-Conscious intentions, repeatedly acted upon, eventually, give rise to automatic actions that no longer require conscious intention.
-Metacognitive introspective awareness is the ability to continuously observe not just mental objects, but the activity and overall state of the mind

Stage six – Subduing Subtle Distractions 

-Your primary goal for this stage is to subdue subtle distractions, particularly those produced by the discriminating mind.
-The first step is to achieve exclusive attention, also called single-pointed attention.
-You have mastered stage six when attention rarely alternates with bodily sensations and ambient sounds, thoughts are at most infrequent and fleeting, and metacognitive awareness is continuous.
-Developing exclusive focus means ignoring subtle distractions
-The quality of exclusive focus depends as much on stabilizing the scope of your attention as it does on fixating on an object.
-Conscious intention is the key to developing exclusive attention. Simply hold the intention to observe all the fine details of the meditation object, and to ignore everything else.
-The more fully conscious your intentions, the more completely any conflict with other intentions will be resolved in favor of focusing on the breath.
-You create exclusive attention, not by “shrinking” your attention down to a small point, but by expanding it so there’s no room for distracting thoughts and other mental objects.
-Intentionally ignoring mental objects trains the mind-system as a whole to ignore them automatically whenever they appear in consciousness
-As you start pacifying the thinking/emotional mind, you can experience the breath for the first time purely as a sensory phenomenon, relatively free of conceptualizations.
-You cultivate meta-cognitive introspective awareness by intending to know, moment by moment, the movements of attention, the quality of perception, and whether your scope is stable or expanding.
-Meditative absorptions are flow states that occur in meditation and are traditionally referred to as Jhana
Sixth Interlude – The Stages of an Adept 

-Unification doesn’t mean the mind becomes a monolithic entity. Rather, it means the unconscious sub-minds start working together in harmony. This is what gives rise to Samatha.
-Mental pliancy is the quality of effortlessness
-Ill will and aversion keep physical pliancy and bliss from arising. Unpleasant bodily sensations during pacification are often due to unconsciously held negative emotions.
-Aversion is a cause of pain, as well as an effect.

Stage Seven – Exclusive Attention and Unifying the Mind 

-The goal of stage seven is to effortlessly sustain exclusive attention and powerful mindfulness. With the conscious intention to continuously guard against dullness and distraction, the mind becomes completely accustomed to effortlessly sustaining attention and mindfulness.
-Complete pacification of the mind means the competing agendas of all the individual thinking/emotional sub-minds get set aside in favor of a single, consciously held intention.
-To completely pacify the discriminating mind, keep doing what you’ve been doing. You don’t pacify the mind. It happens when you repeatedly achieve exclusive attention and sustain it for as long as possible.
-When you feel stuck, restless, and doubtful, 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.
-The familiar world of forms is shaped entirely by the mind’s attempt to make sense of an empty reality
-The world you perceive, your personal “reality”, is nothing more than a construct of your mind

Seventh Interlude – The Nature of Mind and Consciousness 

-For an insight experience to actually reprogram our intuitive view of reality, the relevant information must reach a large enough audience of sub-minds
-We can have a profound spiritual experience, yet the effects may be short-lived. There simply weren’t enough sub-minds unified around the experience — tuned in to the information in consciousness — to produce a major transformation.
-For sub-minds to unify, conflicting goals and priorities must first be resolved.
-A cessation event is where unconscious sub-minds remain tuned in and receptive to the contents of consciousness, while at the same time, none of them project any content into consciousness.
-With cessation, the tuned-in sub-minds simultaneously realize that everything appearing in consciousness is simply the product of their own activity.
-In other words, they realize that the input they’re accustomed to receiving is simply a result of their own fabricating activities.
-The only kind of information that ever appears in the mind that isn’t purely mind-generated is the input coming to them directly from the sense organs.
-Consider a situation where unconscious sub-minds remain tuned in and receptive to the contents of consciousness, while at the same time, none of them project any content into consciousness. Consciousness would cease — completely. There would be a complete cessation of mental fabrications of any kind, including cravings, intentions, and suffering.
-The transformative power of a cessation event depends on how unified the mind was. Unification determines the overall size of the “audience” of sub-minds receptive to events in consciousness. Only the parts of the mind-system that were tuned in during the cessation are affected. If the mind were completely unified, then every sub-mind within the mind-system would be affected simultaneously, and there would be a complete Awakening of the entire mind-system. However, if the mind was only partially unified, there are two possibilities: no transformation, or incomplete transformation.
-With too little unification, a person may have a very memorable peak experience, but little or no lasting effect.
-All intentions are generated in the unconscious mind. The role of consciousness is to allow, suppress, or modify these intentions before they produce an action.
-Our conscious experience of ourselves and the people, things, and events we know as “reality” consists entirely of highly processed mental constructs that have already been extensively combined, analyzed, and interpreted before they come conscious.
-consciousness is simply the fact of information exchange and refers specifically to information exchange occurring at the highest level in the mind-system.
-Information exchange anywhere, in any form, is the result of shared receptivity, and shared receptivity is an expression of interconnectedness

Stage Eight – Mental Pliancy and Pacifying the senses 

-You’ve mastered Stage Eight when your eyes perceive only an inner light, your ears perceive only an inner sound, your body is suffused with pleasure and comfort, and your mental state is one of intense joy.
-Unification of the mind really refers to unification of the Unconscious sub-minds
-There are degrees of unification of the mind. The degree of unification determines how much pacification and joy we experience consciously.
-Happiness is not an emotional state but a specific feeling — the feeling of mental pleasure.
-Note that mental pleasure produced by joy is independent of physical pleasure
-The feeling of happiness that joy brings can coexist with and even allow us to ignore physical pain
-Joy seems to be the default state of a unified mind
-Happiness brings about a temporary unification of the sub-minds, which are all in agreement about the object of desire, and this leads to a joyful state of mind.
-Unification in meditation is due to mental training rather than gaining some desired object
-In the un-unified mind, much of the mental energy gets used up in inner conflicts, many of them unconscious.
-If you find yourself getting stuck in stage 8 the answer lies outside of meditation

Stage nine – Mental and Physical Pliancy and Calming the intensity of Meditative Joy  

-The conscious intention to let these things remain in awareness, combined with the firm resolve to ignore them with attention, allows the mind to unify and transforms how the mind-system functions.
-By observing the nature of the mind in both its active and passive states, it eventually becomes clear that all objects of consciousness are constructs of the mind.
-“The thing-In-itself that stimulated the mind to produce the object can never be observed.
-The mind creates its own “reality”, made entirely of cognitive-emotional constructs produced in response to unknown, and ultimately unknowable, forces acting on the mind through the senses.
-Furthermore, the perceived appearance of these constructs has far more to do with the nature of the constructing mind than with actual sources of sensory data.
-Equanimity is non-reactivity to pleasure and pain
-Equanimity also eliminates the tendency to see ourselves and our needs as more important than those of others.
-You have mastered stage nine when you consistently achieve stable attention and mindfulness, accompanied by joy and tranquility.
Stage ten – Tranquility and Equanimity  

-On mastering stage ten, the mind is described as unsurpassable. It’s an ideal instrument for achieving and deepening profound insight into the true nature of reality and a liberation that is not subject to passing away.

Final Thoughts 

-Always remember that even though samatha is extraordinary, it’s still a conditioned mental state. When those causes and conditions cease, samatha dissolves. Even though samatha persists for longer after stage ten, it still starts fading, gradually but continuously, from the moment you get off the cushion.
-The unification of mind in samatha is temporary and conditioned. However, the unification around Insight is far more profound, and it’s permanent.
-When enough of the mind-system has undergone this transformation, we’re able to function as an individual person while simultaneously perceiving ourselves as part of an indivisible and inconceivably greater whole.
-The illusion of separate Selfhood, with all its attendant suffering, is gone. We can be fully present as persons, here and now, realizing that this “personhood” is just an ever-changing, Self-less construct arbitrarily imposed on an interconnected whole; “here” is merely another construct imposed on infinite space, and “now” is a similar construct imposed on eternity.