Meditation, Mindfulness, and Attention

Photo by dorota dylka on Unsplash

There are a lot of misconceptions out there around just what meditation is – and what it “should” be. I’m not going to address most of them. That’s beyond my pay grade. What I do want to address – in an extremely brief way – is how it can help increase general mindfulness on a day to day basis.

Q: How long should I meditate?

A: How should I know?

That quote is attributed to several different monks and meditation teachers. I like it for its simplicity, for how well it conveys an idea that could otherwise take several pages (or several entire books) to get across. To fully grasp the idea, it helps to understand one of the fundamental aspects of mindfulness:

“Recall that in a line 6 inches long there are an infinite number of points, and in a line one inch long there are just as many.”

    – Jon Kabat-Zinn

If you change ‘inches’ to ‘minutes’ in the above analogy, then how many finite moments are there in a 45-minute meditation session? How about 20 minutes? 10? 2?

Exactly.

If you can bring your focus to this moment, this one right here – then what’s stopping you from bringing that same focus to the moments in a 2-minute meditation session? And if you can do that, why not 10 minutes? See where I’m going with this?

Bottom line – it doesn’t matter how long you sit. What matters is that you bring your attention to the present moment. If you can do that for 2 minutes a day, you’re succeeding and increasing your mindfulness.

Congratulations!

If you can do it for 10 minutes, fantastic! If you take this time sitting at your desk before you start work in the morning, that works. If you can do it before you leave the house, sitting on a cushion, great.

The point is to bring attention to the present moment. Because each moment is fleeting, and when you can bring mindfulness to even one more of them each day you’ll appreciate that day a little bit more.

And every little bit matters.

“Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose…”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn

This brings us, in an admittedly roundabout way, to the topic of this article – Mindfulness and Attention. We live in a culture that wants our attention. The thing is, it only wants our attention long enough for the ad company, or the social media feed, to make their pitch and move on. If you want to dive deeper into something, like a good book, the deck is stacked against you in a big, big way.

I have another post in the works about the Attentional Economy and my own recent experience with it. What I will say here is that there are always ways around this engineered content, ways you can take back your attention and put it to use doing what YOU want it to do. How to do this?

Be Mindful.

Mindful of where your attention is being drawn.

Mindful of what you click as you scroll through your social media feeds.

Mindful of what you’re spending your attentional resources on – specifically if and how that use is serving you.

It helps to think about attention as a finite resource, something that you can use up. You only have so much attention per day, and if you use too much of it scrolling blindly through Instagram or Twitter, how can you expect to have enough left to start that novel?

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