Single-Minded Focus Saves the Day
Meditation and healing our fragmented attention span
How long is your attention span? How long can you focus on one thing before thoughts of what else you are supposed to be doing start crowding in? How often do you need to shift what you are focused on to keep your interest from waning? While engaged in reading something that has caught your attention, does the fear of missing out (FOMO) cause you to switch screens on your phone, seek out a new site, or flip the pages of your magazine? It is like you are at a party craning your neck to see who else has entered the room, even if you are enjoying the conversation in which you are engaged.
I went to an insightful talk about meditation given by Andrew Vidich. Andrew is a wonderful teacher and walking library of comparative mystic knowledge. His talk was about developing single-minded focus, which, he noted, was the key to our success in meditation. He went on to say that meditation helps us build our single-minded focus. Andrew upholds a lineage-based teaching, which holds that meditation is about piercing the thick veil of our thoughts to the light within us. Our habit of multi-tasking throughout the day fragments our attention and distances us from our ability to center ourselves.
Our society promotes distraction. Even our movies generally do not exceed two hours, because our mind’s ability to sit still has decreased. Our bodies, on the other hand, have become overly attached to staying sedentary. Most reading on the internet is done in bullets and bite-sized snippets. Our addiction to our phones has trained us to shorten our attention span by focusing on click bait articles, texts, picture posts, or tweets in rapid succession. When Andrew mentioned that multi-tasking was preventing our success in meditation, it really struck a chord with me.
Just now, I took an automated sip of coffee while I was typing. Did I taste it? Was I conscious of enjoying its delightful energetic properties? Andrew said that when you are with an enlightened person, even if there are hundreds of people around you, when they look at you, they are looking only at you. You feel their undivided attention and that is enough to bring you fully into the present moment.
Undivided attention can be equated with love. Choosing to solely be with whom , what or where we are right now allows us to connect to the love that is inherent in this moment.
Many equate meditating with withdrawing from the world; however, being fully present to whatever we are doing is meditation. Working, walking or washing dishes can be meditative if we are fully present to the sensations that arise.
In his book Runaway Realization, A.H. Almaas says, “Practice is Realization and Realization is Practice.” That is to say, enlightenment is not frozen, there is no endpoint to our practice. We don’t meditate, have the huge “a-ha” moment, then sit at the pinnacle of supreme reality with a medal around our necks. The runner who crosses the finish line doesn’t become a bronze statue, she goes on to run every day.
Andrew told a story of a student gaining enlightenment by watching the way his rabbi tied her shoes. The rabbi, or teacher, was so fully present and solely focused on tying her shoes, it taught the student to focus only on what was taking place now.
If we are involved in something that needs to get done (like sending an email) and an emergency arises, or someone comes in and needs our attention, we can fully shift our attention off of the email and undividedly to the new situation. Once that is complete, we can completely turn back to writing the email.
This is a great challenge. I love eating while watching TV. I love listening to audio books while driving. I consider it a divine treat listening to music while I work. I may not give these up, at least not all at once. Still, starting to recognize where my attention is from moment-to-moment has already expanded my awareness.
The beauty of single-minded focus attention is recognizing that there is no end to wonder. What I have previously thought of as mundane, or the “same ‘ol, same ‘ol” can give way to new discovery. While having conversations, for example, I can begin to notice that my mind wants to rush in and complete someone else’s sentence for them. Instead of assuming that I instantly get what it is being said, I can really listen. Not needing to get back to my perspective and viewpoint, I may just expand and deepen my perspective and understanding. While eating, my mind will tell me, “You’ve eaten this before, you know what it tastes like.” This short-changes me from savoring what may be edible art. When I am stressed out, it is usually because my mind is overwhelmed by stories my mind is projecting about terrible things that may happen. By focusing on breathing and what is actually happening in this moment, the stress has a chance to dissipate. A thousand and one things throughout the day and night stand as portals to full presence. The fear of missing out can be assuaged by beginning to trust that where we are right now, is where it’s at.
Originally published at www.streamoflightblog.com on March 6, 2018.