The First Attention is when we are programmed by others (family, school, work, the media etc). As babies parents get our attention by holding up something or pointing to it and saying the word for it - this is how we start to learning the language and meanings of things in our culture. This continues all through our life as various people try to get us to agree with their view of the world, with what they want us to do or with what they want us to buy. As soon as we agree with this word, definition, idea, religion or sales pitch we are successfully programmed. This is reinforced by further conditioning (positive and negative). It is usually so successful that not to agree gives us a guilty conscience, reduces our self esteem, causes self doubt, makes us feel alienated from those around us or even worse makes us ill.
The Second Attention is when you manage to deprogram yourself. You do this by changing your agreements to the above, being mindful that any discomfort is to be overcome. You become a warrior in doing this. Using Ruiz's "Four agreements" is a great tool for doing this. You can also play with the alchemy of opposites (check out the writings of Robert Anton Wilson, John Lilly and Christopher Hyatt). If you only use this to recreate yourself then you are only creating a replacement for your existing programming, although hopefully a better bit of software. If you do this to gain power over your own life the dangers are minimal but if you discover the inherent power in this kind of reprogramming you could use it to control the world around you (go over to the darkside as they say in Star Wars). That is why until recently this path to enlightenment was hidden - because sometimes you don't release your programming/story altogether - just replace it with another that you control. The best tool I think I've found for reminding yourself you are not your program is to focus on enjoying your breath, as Miguel suggests.
True release from your programming comes when you reach the "Third Attention". This usually comes through a near death experience. For me it came through the near loss of a couple of significant others in my life and I realised that I really needed to enjoy them as much as possible now as the future can change in an instant. Petty issues become something you chose to ignore or avoid because all you want to do is love them. This is called getting to "the bones" of what is real, love. Tibetans get to the third attention by spending long periods of time in graveyards contemplating the illusory and transitory nature of what most people consider the world to be (which ironically is called Maya by the Tibetans and Indians as, for me, it seems to be the meso-americans (Mayans) who are best at explaining the way out of it).
The third attention is one of those intangibles that is hard to explain but I think these symptoms are an indication:
- What you thought mattered doesn't matter anymore
- The oneness of love and life which is at the core of all things (hidden by our layers of illusion) becomes the only reality
- forgiving and loving become things to do without reason
- fear dissolves
- living in the immediate moment
I am not, by the way, claiming to be in this state of consciousness all the time - I'm just doing my best.