By: Cheryl Brause, Journey Meditation Teacher
One of the most essential skills we are building in a mindfulness practice is the power of concentration. In our modern, busy world, we are constantly distracted and our attention is continually being drawn in many different directions. We live in a state of continuous partial attention. This is exhausting and stressful. And, when we need to focus our attention, we often have trouble “turning off” all those distracting thoughts and reigning in our attention. Mindfulness practice, in which we are learning to intentionally bring our attention to the present moment and hold it there, builds our power of concentration and offers many benefits to our health and wellbeing.
Bringing Attention Into the Present Moment Reduces Stress and Fatigue
Focusing our attention on what is actually happening as it is happening is no small task. We spend so much of our time each day worrying about the future or thinking about the past. This is the main source of our stress and anxiety. Often, we can’t sleep at night because there is no “off switch” to our busy minds. By intentionally placing our attention on something that is actually happening in the present moment and away from the busyness of our minds, we can create a refuge for ourselves from the relentless onslaught of mental activity, which can lead to deep relaxation and less stress.
Concentration as a Place of Refuge and Peace
A concentration practice can also serve as a place of refuge. It can be used as a beautiful escape from the stress and busyness of your day. By anchoring your attention for just a few minutes during the day on your breath, for example, you are allowing your mind to rest and reset, and rebuild your inner resources.
When you focus and dive deeply into your experience, fully concentrated in it, the experience can be very pleasant and even beautiful. Think of watching a beautiful sunset, immersing yourself in nature, getting completely carried away by beautiful music or being fully present for a hug with someone you love. In these moments, you are fully present and concentrated in that experience, and those moments can be quite profound. By practicing deep concentration, we can find more moments of deep peace and joy in our days.
Building Mental Muscle
To exercise your power of concentration, look for short moments to practice throughout your day. Focus your full attention on something that is actually happening right now, notice the sights or the sounds around you or place your attention on your body by noticing your breath or how your body feels as you sit, walk or stand. Wherever you chose to place your attention, hold it there for a few moments and simply rest your attention there.
We often think of concentration as effortful and tense. Instead, try thinking of this practice as a process of continuously letting go. Simply let go of thoughts that arise that are distracting and not serving you and return your attention to your focus point, allowing it to rest there. Each time you get distracted and then intentionally draw your attention back to where you want it, it is like doing a bicep curl for your brain. Just like going to the gym to build strength and muscle, this concentration practice develops your strength of your mind while giving you the tools to find moments of peace and relaxation throughout your day. Once you start practicing, you will notice that you can much more easily direct your attention away from stressful thoughts and concentrate on what is happening right now, which is your life and it is often quite beautiful if we just learn to pay attention to it as it is happening.