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Mindful : April 2017
It’s not uncommon for someone doing a medi- tation intensive to feel like they’re not meditat- ing—however they define that—and yet there are these intriguing effects. What’s up with that? These effects seem to have to do with a shift in the habitual way we use our attention. Our everyday attention has automatic modes to it. It follows patterns. And the way we pattern our attention—the paths our attention takes us down, the choices it makes—hugely affects our experience. In a way, it creates our experience. Shifting patterns of attention We’re generally not aware of the patterns our attention follows, because what we’re mostly aware of is the stuff that’s happening, or not happening, or the people who are coming or not coming, or the way work is unfolding or not unfolding. We rarely notice how our own atten- tion is behaving. Fortunately, meditation enables us to take a closer and closer look at the mecha- nisms of our everyday thought process. If you take a moment to notice, there’s a good chance you’ll see that the patterns your attention follows are typically not random. They obey cer- tain tendencies; they habitually operate in very similar ways. They make up your daily grind. One of the tendencies is for our attention to hop around a lot, trying to catch something happening or make something happen. Even a few minutes of meditation will make that apparent. The breath happens, and you’re totally with it for half a breath and then...you move away to something else. It’s very likely As your attention settles, as greater stability emerges, you’re like the little pig who’s built a house of bricks. Every little huff and puff will not blow your house down. nothing super interesting is happening—partic- ularly in the space you’re meditating in (unless instead of a retreat you’re meditating at a rock concert). It’s simply that the attention is habitu- ated to moving around, to seeking after stuff. That is its mode. It’s flighty—plain and simple. One thing that starts to happen, though, as we sit here and practice, moment by moment, is we learn how to attend differently. Connecting with what’s happening now (for a moment or, if we can manage it, a bit longer), again and again, you begin to see that, oh, the attention drifts off or flits away. But it’s the coming back that makes the difference. You might connect with just one breath, or notice just one sound, or a twitch or tingle in your body. But that’s all it takes. These moments have impact. And indeed over time, in subtle ways, we start to be able to attend differently. The attention learns how to land here, connect with what’s actually happening here, simply by our repeatedly choosing to come back to wherever here may be. We find our- selves connecting not with our thoughts about breathing, or the concept of breathing, but with 70 mindful April 2017 insight