“Life is a flash of lightning in the dark of night. It is a brief time of tremendous potential.”
– B. Alan Wallace
Especially in our time, when there are so many possibilities and distractions, it’s increasingly difficult for us to focus on one thing for a length of time that we choose. That particular skill is one of the keys to a meditative life. But such focus may seem like a daunting task, especially if we feel like we’re not particularly good at concentrating on anything.
Enjoying focused attention
But we really don’t have to become Olympic-level concentrators in order to have a more meditative life; and in fact, each one of us is already skilled at focusing. All we need to do is to learn to practice it a little more consciously, so that we can make it more easily accessible.
An untrained mind moves from thing to thing without much conscious choice. We might even feel at the mercy of it at times. “Focusing attention” is simply making a conscious choice, and staying with one thing. We do this automatically if we’re interested in something.
When we train attention, we unite body and mind in the way we naturally do when we love something or are deeply curious about it. So if I focus my attention on my breathing, I feel it with my body and attend to it with my mind. If my mind jumps elsewhere, I bring it back so it’s unified with my body. This full attention trains the brain in single-pointed concentration, and with time, this unification becomes easier. I feel like there is a natural beauty going along with it if someone is present in this way.
Deepening and widening
In deepening this skill of focusing attention, we simultaneously learn how to filter distractions. We need to be able to pick out one thing from everything else in the room, and let the rest of the room do what it does, without distracting us. This is sometimes called “selective attention” being able to keep selecting and placing our attention on our chosen object. It allows us to be present to the current situation while being focused on one thing, topic, person.
Presence is a palpable experience in ourselves and others, of really “being here” for our life. When we really listen to another person, they deeply experience our presence and feel genuinely heard and cared about. When we really listen to ourselves, we experience our own presence. Our own life stops passing us by when we really listen to one another. We join in a deeper connection and touch upon our life in a different way.
For me the meaning and the joy of being present in a focused way becomes evident when I enjoy the ease of simply doing one thing, or of being with one person or one thought at a time. Of course in the beginning this is not always easy; at first we notice how easily we get distracted and even forget what we actually wanted to attend to. But slowly we can notice that our experience of life changes to become more aware, spacious, and maybe even more joyful. If our days are busy the duration we have to focus on one thing might be much shorter than on calmer days.
It’s worth trying and it’s worth maintaining. In my experience, a full, happy, and more meditative life is built from this ability to be with ourselves, our lives, and others completely. Maybe you feel like you will live forever, but the few decades we all actually have can pass by very quickly, especially if we pass through right now unaware. So if we experience this brief time with more focus and attention in the current moment, we might feel like we can make good use of our tremendous potential.
See how this resonates this week — focused attention, concentration, being aware in the moment — see what you feel good with and what you’d like to focus on.
And above all, enjoy!