Though a common saying suggests the main resources with which we conduct our lives are time and money, there is another resource that is more primary than either of these – namely, Attention.
Focus is the only real tool a person has. The perception of the world is entirely encompassed by the mind. Life can be defined in the interaction and connection between world and mind, but the only method by which an individual can observe the internal and external is through the lens of consciousness. When focused, this lens is in the state of Attention.
Whether reminiscing upon the past, considering the future, or living in the present; whether spending time in work or play; whether enjoying a book or time with a loved one, the main resource is that of Attention.
Meditation Is the Exercise and Cultivation of Attention.
At one extreme, a person can completely diffuse her thoughts with barely any attention spent towards any single thing. This can be a trance-like state of mind just above sleeping. At the other end of the spectrum, she can focus strongly upon something well-defined, as with meditation.
When a person has learned how to focus well, that individual can then grow a more favorable world around herself. One can almost consider attention as a type of growth agent for the world surrounding the self.
Focusing on money matters, for example, can create optimal conditions for money growth. Though the world’s economic weather and soil may or may not always be favorable, at least the nutrition and care is provided by the person involved.
Without the ability to focus, one risks becoming lost in the torrents of the world. There is no anchor; there is no direction. Such a lifestyle is a viable choice, but I would think it a better choice if it were consciously made. Gaining the capacity to attain a solid state of Attention would allow for that consideration.
The Practice of Meditation
Meditation, among other things, is the art of learning and moving with the natural contours and currents of one’s own mind. Learning the mind’s movements can present the conditions favorable towards Attention.
Its practice is simple – define an object and focus upon it. When you notice the mind has wandered, gently and kindly bring it back. For most intents and purposes, these above two sentences define meditation.
The rest, in all its variations, is really just the practice of defining the object. Some variables to consider would be:
- Time (how long to meditate) – 5 seconds, 5 minutes, as long as a particular task takes …
- Space (physical objects) – a leaf, a box, a sheet of paper, …
- Concepts – art, music, language, …
- Emotions – love, joy, sadness, …
- Activities – breathing, creating art, an exercise, …
Once the object is defined, the meditation is set – focus upon the object and when the mind wanders outside of the boundaries initially lined, gently bring the mind back to the task.
As a specific example, take a piece of music you enjoy. Find somewhere quiet where you feel you would not be interrupted. Close your eyes and listen to the piece from the very beginning to the last trailing sounds. If your mind wanders to some task or some thought, just bring it back to the sounds. Listen without assigning meaning. Just allow it to be heard. This meditation is defined by the boundaries of the sounds and the time the piece lasts.
The music does not have to be “peaceful” either. Just find something you enjoy. As a side note, during my high school years, I would do this to take a break from homework with, believe it or not, tracks from Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning. Listening to these on a tape deck, I would stop the player between tracks, so the next song would be ready for my next break. Though one may not necessarily hear the influence of these albums in my present musical writings, the practice of focus is reflected.
Today, improvisation of music has become my meditation. It is a type of free association, though it is a free association in the medium of notes rather than words. It is a focus upon the emotional connection between the unconscious, conscious, and sound; it is a focus upon the beginning, middle, and end of an entity; and it is an understanding of communication between self and others.
I do not intend to state a value of music over others as a type of meditation. It just happens to be a major realm of my own focus. Metallica is not exactly billed as meditation music, but that is the point – the object of meditation is really any object you define.
The decision of object may be a reflection of any number of aspects of a person. Some objects may be enjoyable and some may not be. If a certain object of focus is found to give unfavorable feelings, consider discontinuing that practice and trying another.
Breathing as an Example of another Meditation
There are many types of meditation and each can have a larger impact than may be noted on first glance. For example, a breathing meditation can be quite powerful. Learning to focus on something as “boring” as the breath can make a person realize that it is not boring at all and that, in fact, focusing on its centrality to our being can have a large impact on a person’s perceptions and actions.
Breathing is a function ascribed to the part of our brain called the “brain stem,” which also works to regulate our heartbeat and circulatory system. We share this aspect of brain with just about every other centralized nervous system creature on the planet.
Yet, this ancient aspect of mind somehow allows an element of conscious control. Focusing on the breath can have the impact of realizing that there is more conscious control over the breath than one originally thought. As examples, one can hold his breath for a short period of time, a person’s posture can radically change the amount of air he can draw, one can breathe slowly or quickly on purpose, and one can change his rhythm of breathing.
Focusing upon the breath without the intent of modifying it and only watching, feeling, and experiencing it as it naturally exists becomes not only a meditation on breathing but also a meditation upon the interface of something conscious and something unconscious. One learns how conscious thoughts can affect the normally unconscious.
This practice, done routinely for several minutes daily over the course of years can abstract to other aspects of daily life and interaction. It is not just the realization that is important here, it is the practice itself that has the profound effects.
Analogously, though I may have consciously recognized that allowing music to flow instead of tightening with anxiety brings about a more enjoyable piece, actually creating music by these means can only be done through practice. The situation is similar to only knowing how to lift a 100-pound object versus having practiced weight-lifting and prepared prior.
In this way, a focused attention can provide growth prior unrealized. Meditation is a simple act though it requires dedication. In allowing and helping one to navigate life, it can be as important as a physical exercise. Meditation is a flexing of mind as Attention is a state of health.