Discovering the focus in meditation
Once I had committed to a daily meditation practice and found the places to meditate that worked for me, it was time to start in earnest.
As I went along in my practice, I learnt I had to focus during meditation but not like when focusing on a task or learning something new. It was a more refined, subtle focus – to notice really. With True Rest meditation Mandy starts with focusing the breath then body sensing. Putting my attention onto following my breath and to parts of my body as it released then I moved onto focusing on her words. This is why I like a guided meditation, listening to her voice and instruction gave my mind something to anchor onto. Because, let’s be honest, my mind had another idea of what I was going to do with that relaxation time. By focusing on staying with my breath, sensing my legs or back etc and her voice, my thoughts stayed right there and didn’t wander off incessantly. What also grew was my awareness as to when the thoughts came about – and it was a lot more than I would have guessed. Then there came a discipline or focus to gently and in a non-judgmental way guide my thinking mind back to listening to Mandy’s voice. To let go of the thoughts that wanted to invade this space that I was creating.
In this process, I learnt how many thoughts actually make their way into my mind. And in doing this, it felt like I was seeing or facing myself in a very raw, authentic way. I was seeing myself, and I understand that this may not sound like such a wonderful thing to undertake. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did not really enjoy the first six months of this meditation practice that I had started as a way to calm the noisy non-stop busy mind that had taken up space in my head. This awareness or revelation occurred to me – there is way too many thoughts going through my head at one time. The guided meditation gave me a tool to re-focus back on what I was choosing to focus on. By giving my mind something to do or consciously focus on – the other intrusive thoughts backed away. The irony being that by giving my mind something to do, I could then slow down the speed of my racing mind. Mandy likens it to a fan that has been switched off – it takes some time for the blades to slow down before they can stop.
The focus outside my meditation practice
After a period of time, I noticed that I started to apply this singular focus to everyday task and duties. Cooking, driving, shopping and then it branched out to activities like listening to someone speak, a face to face conversation with one of my sons or writing an email. When I was focusing, listening and acting from that place of a singular focus, I noticed that my mind stayed relaxed. Like a sigh of relief. I started to see and feel the benefits of my meditation practice outside of when I was meditating.
It turns out that I’m not the only one who had seen wider benefits of focused meditation. According to Pyschology Today, a study in the Journal of Neuroscience reports that ‘people who regularly practice meditation may improve their mental focus by altering brain function. Compared to non-meditators, they may be better equipped to quiet brain activity related to mind-wandering’. Giuseppe Pagnoni, the Italian neuroscientist found that meditation not only changes brain patterns, but it also confers advantages in mental focus that may improve cognitive performance.
This same result was found by Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School Instructor in Psychology. In her study, she found, ‘Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.
In essence, changes occur to parts of our brains when we meditate regularly, those changes stay with us and help us focus even when we are not meditating.
With my own meditation practice, I got to a place where I could deeply relax during a meditation and feel that release and relief. By doing so, I ended up working the part of my brain that controls my ability to focus. It turned out that those benefits expanded outside of the time I meditated. Yep, those benefits are worth the 10 -20 minutes a day I use to meditate.