Can you remember moments in your life when the whole world seemed to shine with a sparkling clarity? When everything -- your own thoughts, as well as the sights and sounds around you -- just clicked into place, effortlessly? You didn’t have to get things to work -- they just worked, all by themselves.
For many people, those are the moments most worth living for. Those are the times when you really know all that you’re capable of doing and being. During those moments, you experience the focused mind state. By practicing the focus and concentration exercises that you’re about to learn, you can gain the power to access the focused mind state whenever you wish.
To begin, let’s look at the three essential features that make up the focused mind state, together with the focus and concentration techniques you can use for mastering them. These three qualities are focus, flow and flexibility.
For most people, the mind is like an ordinary light bulb, casting a diffuse illumination over everything in view. But your mind can be a bright spotlight, pinpointing anything you choose with diamond-sharp clarity!
One of the most effective methods for attaining this optimum level of concentration involves synchronizing your breathing and your focus of attention.
Here’s how it works. As you inhale, imagine that your attention is a bright spotlight focused inward upon yourself. Then, when you exhale, imagine that you can shine the powerful beam in whatever direction you select.
Breathe in and focus, then breathe out and direct your complete attention on your chosen target...
Many people find that this technique is made more effective when breathing and focusing are linked to a simple movement or gesture. To see if this works for you, try some experiments.
As you inhale, make a “drawing in” motion with your hand. Then make a gesture of “sending out” when you exhale.
Or try making a circular motion with your right hand, bringing it to your chest at the fullness of your inhalation. As you exhale, point your right palm in the direction you choose to focus your attention.
Here’s another, even simpler, technique: curl your fingers inward as you inhale...then relax them outward as you release the breath.
Linking your breathing to a gesture will help you focus your attention in a tangible way. Figuratively speaking, it’s a way to “get a hold of” your mind.
The foundation of the Focused Mind state is the continuity of attention flowing effortlessly from moment to moment.
To get the feeling for this, use the breath to help you focus your attention here and now in the present moment...and as you exhale, allow your awareness to flow like an unbroken stream of awareness into this moment...each breath is like a stream of awareness. When the continuity of your concentration is broken, then simply return to the breath and let your awareness flow. With practice you’ll be able to maintain the focus of your attention for longer and longer periods.
Flow is a process of allowing a momentary focus of concentration to sustain itself into a period of continuous attention. As you experienced with the above exercise, your breathing can be an aid to mastering the ability to flow.
Here’s another exercise. First, choose a focus for your attention. It can be a physical object, or an idea. As you inhale, allow the focus of your attention to become more vivid. As you exhale, feel your attention flowing toward the object or idea you’ve targeted.
Use your continuous flow of breath to help create an ongoing flow of attention. If you feel your attention wandering, use your next breath to refocus your attention, and then let it flow again.
You can also add a simple verbalization. As you take a breath, think or softly say to yourself, “In.” Then whisper “Out” as you exhale. If you like, you can substitute the words “focusing” and “flowing,” with “receiving” and “radiating.” These brief mental notes are usually enough to quiet any distracting internal static.
The third component in mastering the quality of your attention is flexibility. By developing mental flexibility, you can gain the power to move your mind through an infinite array of tasks and functions.
Here’s a simple method of enhancing your flexibility of thought. First, select a primary “anchor” for your attention: it can be a letter on your desk, a presentation you’re planning, or even your hands folded in your lap. Focus your total concentration on whatever anchor you’ve selected.
Now, intentionally shift your attention away from your anchor and focus instead on some interesting object in your field of vision. Remember to use your breathing as an aid in directing your attention. After a moment of concentration on the visual target you’ve selected, again shift your attention back to your anchor.
Over the next few minutes, alternate your attention between your anchor and a selection of sights or sounds in your vicinity. With practice, you can substitute internal targets, such as thoughts or feelings, for physical objects.
Focus, flow and flexibility of attention are fundamental components of true concentration. But there’s a fourth quality of creative intelligence: mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the ability to know what you’re mentally experiencing, and to recognize the “territory” of mind that you’re in at a given moment. Mindfulness informs you whether you’re clear and calm, dull and sleepy, or alert and aware. The truly mindful quality of attention is a powerful antidote to the mindlessness that can cause so many problems in life. In every aspect of your life you can only improve what you pay attention to.
To build mindfulness, learn to create concise mental labels for the objects of your attention. Your mental noting can refer to internal experiences such as “hungry”, “tired”, “tense” or “relaxed.” It can also label internal qualities of experience such as planning or remembering, anger or joy. Finally, mental noting can relate to external, physical objects and activities. As soon as you notice that you’re thinking about something, see how quickly you can mentally label the target of your attention.
As the power of your mindfulness grows and you see how your mind wanders from one focus of attention or another, you’ll soon learn that you don’t have to mentally jump onto every train of thought that goes by!
Here are three simple principles to follow as you learn to master the quality of your attention:
Most importantly, remember that the quality of your consciousness and the quality of your attention determine the quality of your life. By gaining greater awareness and control of your mind, you can exercise greater control of your world.
[Adapted from the booklet "Awareness Training: Exercises for Mindful Attention" by Joel and Michelle Levey]Return from Focus and Concentration to Concentration Techniques