In some ways, meditation practice is like learning to serve a tennis ball. When we begin to practice meditation, we are undertaking the task of paying attention to the present moment, and doing so non-judgmentally. And, we quickly notice, this is not particularly easy for most of us, most of the time. When we are not actually engaged in an absorbing task, we are usually very mentally scattered. Instead of actively engaging our attention, we usually let it wander to whatever sensation or train of thought may arrive, without even noticing what it is that we have focused, or re-focused on. We go onto autopilot, and our minds wander aimlessly. We may engage in the mental re-hashing of various distressing life events; we may fantasize (happily or fearfully) about various possible future events. We may mentally criticize ourselves for doing certain things or feeling certain ways. The point is not that any of those mental topics is necessarily bad; the point is that we are, very often, being mentally passive, and not active; we are being absent, and not present, in our own mental lives. Instead of paying attention to what is going on, in our heads and around us, we are passively responding to the whole show. And, very often, we are mostly un-aware of nearly all of what is actually happening in our lives.
Meditation is a process of learning to be more mentally active. Over and over again, we ask ourselves to notice what is going on. We may choose a focus point, such as the sensations of breathing, to pay attention to. Then, when we settle in to do this task, we quickly find that we lose focus, and our minds drift away to something else; it may take some time even to notice that we have lost focus on our chosen object (such as sensations of breathing). The task then is simply to notice that this has happened; to re-focus on the chosen object; and to notice any judgments that accompany this process (I may notice that I am irritated or discouraged, because I so quickly lost focus). And (this is the key) this process is repeated many, many times; just as we repeat the movements of the tennis serve, so in meditation we repeat the process of gently bringing attention, or mental focus, onto a chosen object. This repetition is what changes our brain; this is what makes us more capable of being mentally engaged in our lives (as well as less reactive, and more compassionate). A recent study authored by Lidia Zylowska and her colleagues at UCLA indicates that meditation training is an effective intervention for people with attention deficit disorder; when we think about it, of course, it hardly seems surprising. Meditation is (partly) about learning to pay attention, by repeatedly practicing “paying attention”!
26 August 2008
Meditation and Mindfulness: Practice
Leave a Comment »
No comments yet.