Mindfulness as a tool to keep your mind sharp.
Do you keep your mind sharp? Aware? Are you able to maintain focus and to keep concentration levels high? There are a lot of times that I seem unable to keep the focus on what I am trying to achieve. I’ll get distracted by some shiny new thought and off on a tangent I go. That is not necessarily bad, I learn a lot of (hopefully) useful things but I lose a lot of time and energy doing so. And if I can’t keep focused, my concentration just isn’t going to be there.
Keeping on task (focus) and engaged (concentration) is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to do. With so much of work requiring the internet, with all the distractions, staying on task is often a task itself. For example, I just went to YouTube to select some music to listen to that would aid concentration. But first, just one video to take a quick moment just for me. About 5 videos later, I type in my search for music and finally get to real work. Surprisingly enough, its break time, so off I go for a soda and a smoke…
Remember, the brain is an organ, yet I’m sure we all have heard the expression “You have to exercise your brain for it to grow.” The brain “grows” by learning new facts, skills and associations. Very, very simply; when learning something new, the cells that send and receive that information become more efficient. It takes less effort for them to signal the next cell about what’s going on, in effect creating a bridge. Practice leads to more efficiency and not using the skills can have the opposite effect, the bridges fall into disrepair.
Let’s look at some Mindful ways, some skills to keep our mind sharp.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master and best-selling author of 3 books. His profound yet easily understood teachings and sense of humor have endeared him to students around the world. Rinpoche’s teachings tie his own personal experiences with scientific research, relating both to the practice of meditation. His candid and often humorous accounts of his own personal struggles have enabled him to reach thousands of people on a personal level. “How to train your Monkey Mind” is an excellent example of his style and approach to teaching.
Focus is best learned thru breathing. Thich Nhat Hanh has said “Your body is your first home. Breathing in, I arrive in my body. Breathing out, I am home.” He often refers to breathing as an anchor. During meditation the mind stays active, thoughts are constantly rushing and becoming distractions. Breathing becomes a focus point you always have. Allow the thoughts to just pass while you focus on breathing in and out. Listen to your breath, feel the rise and fall of your chest. Thich Nhat Hanh Breath Meditation is a short 2-minute breathing exercise that I really enjoy. Simple and easy to follow.
The goal of concentration meditation is to train the mind for continual focus. Thich Nhat Hanh says “The practice of concentration is like acquiring a lampshade to help us concentrate our mind on Something… We develop our own power of concentration. With that power of concentration, we can look deeply into the problem. This is Insight Meditation. First we are aware of the problem, focusing all our attention on the problem, and then we look deeply into it in order to understand its real nature.”
Much like being in a dimly lit room and wishing to see something more clearly, we adjust the lampshade to provide better light. Concentrating allows us to shine the light on a particular thought and to explore all of its possibilities. Ever notice that when you are deep in thought, your breath evens out naturally, your eyes settle on an object without really seeing it? Thoughts are focused on your internal concentration point. Without giving distracting thoughts any notice, they are dismissed automatically and your concentration returns to what is important.
Think of visualization as watching a movie in your head, only you control the scenes. Make the image as detailed as possible, add color, sound and smell. After you get the clear detailed image in your head, start to add the people and noises. Slowly build the image, adding to the details. Make it as real-life as possible.
There are a lot of good guided visualization aids available. I have tried many and find them to be extremely relaxing, most have allowed me to fall asleep, so be careful when you use them. Walk Along the Beach Guided Meditation and Visualization is very good, providing the scene and basic images for you to build upon. Memories can also be used. Bring up the basic scene in your mind and add all the other details.
I once had a cassette tape of a guided visualization with a room as the setting. Like the Walk along the Beach, it provided a scene that allows you to design your own space, with whatever you wish inside it. I no longer have the tape, but my Room is still a place I go to relax and to examine problems or issues.
The Little Ones seem to practice Mindfulness naturally. They get caught up in the present moment so easily. Have you ever watched a child playing and devoting all of her/his attention to that play? No distractions, no worries. Just the “task” at hand. It is easy for us as adults to get caught up in that moment of watching a child play. Memories of ourselves or of other sons and daughters…repairing those bridges, sharpening our mind.
Objects also serve as focus points. The object itself could be anything, but should be easy to focus your attention on. Something associated with pleasant emotions without being overpowering. Shifting your focus to an object allows you to bring awareness to the thought or issue you wish. Just as using breath to keep your focus, when distracting thoughts arise, allow them to pass and return your focus to your visual point.
Mindfulness is often described as being in the present moment. Putting aside all distractions and allowing ourselves to be absorbed into what is happening right now. Allow yourself to engage with what you are doing and experiencing. Much like the child engaged in play.
Building the bridges between brain cells isn’t done quickly. It takes time and repetition. And, perhaps strangely enough, sleep. Sleep allows our bodies to rest and allows our mind to put the body on autopilot while it processes the information and inputs received during our wakeful hours. To build or repair the bridges. Making the connections and sharpening our minds.
Mindfulness is living in the present, allowing for inputs that are not blurred by distractions and by unproductive thoughts or emotions. Simply allowing yourself to live and to fully experience your actions provides the basics for growth and a stronger mind.
Your comments, thoughts and questions are valued here. How do YOU keep your mind sharp?
Walking the Path of Peace,