Self-Hospitality Pt. 4: Focus Works Differently in Meditation

So when you learn meditation, you’re given something to put your attention. Perhaps it’s your breath or, in my case, a mantra. Your first instinct might be to focus on that thing wholeheartedly. But in meditation ease and openness is truly what gives the practice power, and nothing takes you further from that than the strain of focus. Save your focus muscles for a focus-building practice. 

Don’t get me wrong, focus is important. If you’re perhaps performing heart surgery, landing a plane, or defusing a bomb, I would sure hope that you can be a focused individual (at least until after any mental wandering impacts people’s ability to keep living). Here, the hard-lined, results-oriented part of the mind is most needed. However, meditation hopes to put a different part of the mind in the driver’s seat – the raw non-linear field of consciousness underneath all that clarity and analysis. The source of creativity, intuition, and all that inspired stuff that sort of emerges spontaneously.

Focus can actually be counterproductive to that part of the mind’s expression. It squeezes your awareness so nothing else can get in except the one thing that you’ve somehow decided is important (however when you’re landing a plane, landing the plane is the only thing that is important so please proceed with that focus thing you were doing there).

Notice how you can’t be creative when you’re trying really hard to be? Meditation is the same. You can’t meditate when you’re trying really hard to make something happen. It also doesn’t work when the only thing you’ve decided should be in your awareness is your mantra or breath. Meditation is about inviting a relaxed state in order for the mind and body to heal, reintegrate and restore its vitality. Your awareness is positioned to invite all possibilities of what you might experience. 

So how is this different than just sitting there staring at a wall, doing nothing? Superficially, these two states may not look that different. But fundamentally, there is a massive difference between a state where none of your intentionality is pointed towards inviting a meditative state and all of your intentionality is pointed towards inviting this state. Let’s break it down.

When you meditate with a mantra, this is what you do:

  1. You close your eyes.
  2. You establish that it’s your preference to keep your attention on the mantra.
  3. You accept every experience you have thereafter, only returning your attention to the mantra whenever you think to.
  4. You do not use an ounce of effort to keep your attention on the mantra. You don’t return your awareness to the mantra until you think to. Then you absolutely do…but only when you think to.

The practice of closing your eyes, thinking the mantra and simply preferring it to stay in your awareness is what distinguishes the state of meditation from any other state. The unwillingness to use effort to remain aware of this mantra is what distinguishes meditating properly from meditating like a self-torturing novice.

It’s about establishing the preference, not maintaining your focus on it. Focus is for activity. You’re focused when you’re playing video games. And the video game state of consciousness is one of the least meditative states I can think of.

This might be a hard adjustment for some people since we can’t imagine getting results without flexing them into being with our amazing capacity for focus and action. 

You might be reading this thinking, “So, basically trust that meditation will happen when we are in a state of almost indifference about it happening at all?”

Yeah…basically. But meditation happens most perfectly, powerfully and reliably this way. And it will happen, because your mind is designed to do this as soon as it gets the invitation. And by sitting, closing your eyes, simply preferring your mantra and being open to wherever else your awareness gets taken is the best possible invitation you can give to allowing your mind to do what it already wants to do.

Learn The Essentials

The purpose of this series is to give you everything you need to get the most out of meditation, self-care and this fresh new life we get to live with such powerful tools at our disposal. The weekly tools and principles I share will help you become more skilled and confident at meditating and just generally living with this thing called a mind.

Whether or not you’ve already learned meditation (with me or elsewhere), refer to this guide to either get you started or refresh you on the essentials.

I bet, even if you’ve been meditating for awhile, this series will reveal aspects of it that will make you say, “Wow, how come I didn’t know this?” You did. And you do. You just needed reminding. Meditation is a very radical way of being in ourselves…and yet it’s the most familiar place we know.