Note: I began this post yesterday but had to stop halfway through it to write the post I ended up publishing; yesterday’s post is background info needed for part of today’s post to make sense.
March 5, 2014
This morning’s meditation perplexed me. I had terrible trouble focusing, more trouble than normal. I really didn’t understand why I was having such a hard time keeping my mind on the inspirational passages I’ve memorized. If you are curious about the kind of meditation I do, read this.
Because I’m working through step 3 of the Twelve Steps this month, I affirmed in my mind in a prayerful sort of way, God, I turn this meditation over to you. Do with it what you will. I turn my mind and my concentration over to you. Do with them what you will.
I must’ve repeated I’m turning this meditation over to you God six times in thirty minutes. Each time I became aware of the fact that I had lost focus and was off target, I felt so lost in my sea of thoughts that all I could really do was pray. Although my mind wasn’t as still as I would’ve liked, I wasn’t aware of the passage of time and was surprised when the bell rang. In my experience it’s always a good sign to lose awareness of time passing during meditation–it means that I’ve slipped into the field of being, into the eternal present moment, and it’s a relief to be liberated, if only for a brief window of time.
After meditation was over, I sat a moment longer and asked the Teachers how I can improve my ability to focus. This is what they said:
You ask how you can develop the ability to concentrate, how to sustain your focus over prolonged periods of time. We invite you to practice one-pointed attention in each moment of your day so that you may carry this one-pointedness with you into meditation. Today we invite you to slow down and give all of your attention to the task that is directly in front of you, to practice focusing on it, and to identify when you have lost focus, that you may call it back. It is a practice that extends beyond your thirty minutes of seated meditation. It is a practice that will assist those thirty minutes in feeling deeper, more meaningful, more transformative. Slow down today, and give your attention to what is directly in front of you. Grow in this ability to focus in the rest of your life, and you will bring this focus to your seated meditations.
March 6, 2014
What the Teachers said made a whole lot of sense to me, so I began in that moment practicing one-pointedness in the most literal way I could think of. As I walked down the stairs from my meditation room, I repeated to myself, Walking. Walking. Walking.
I went over to the kitchen counter to make a cup of tea. Each little thing I did, I would try to articulate it in my mind, to stay present, to be with what I was doing both in body and mind. Opening the cabinet. Reaching. Taking a mug. Turning. Pulling the handle of the water filter. Filling mug with water. Turning. Opening electric kettle. Pouring water in kettle. Closing lid. Pushing power button. Reaching. Holding tin of tea bags. Pulling lid off tin. Reaching for a teabag. Putting tea bag in mug. Pouring hot water over tea bag…
Just like in meditation, if I noticed my mind was wondering away, I began repeating exactly what my body was doing in that moment. Taking a step. Taking another step. Sitting down. Breathing in. Breathing out.
The simplest of morning routines, I discovered, involves the most miraculous orchestrated movement of muscles and bones in my body, coordinated by impulses traveling through my nerves, transmitted by my brain that had the thought about what it wanted the body do. Broken down into so many steps, it was difficult for the every day chatter of my mind to make itself heard. I was experiencing present moment awareness.
Then the kids and the husband woke up, and with the added movement and noise it was difficult to sustain the awareness I was attempting to cultivate. Every once in a while during the day I would come back to it and begin again, articulating in my mind whatever my body was doing.
Today is day two of this practice. I figure that if I eat when I’m eating, if I brush my teeth when I’m brushing my teeth, then I’ll actually meditate when I’m meditating.
Typing at the keyboard. Sitting in bed. Breathing in. Breathing out. Petting the cat. Hearing my daughter turning the pages of a book.
Seeing that all is well. Feeling grateful.
Eknath Easwaran is a dearly loved and celebrated meditation teacher who knew how to walk his spiritual talk. If you want to read Easwaran’s argument for one-pointed attention, read this