From Chaos to Focus
A major part of mindfulness is giving full attention and focus, in a particular moment, to something. Sounds simple enough, right? You would think so, but a few years ago I really struggled with this very simple practise.
My mind refused to be still.
The more I tried to quiet my mind the more the chaotic thoughts raged through my mind. I’d get constant reminders to “be still” but inside I’d just be screaming “HOW??!!!!”.
The moment I would attempt to focus on any one thing my never-ending “to do” list would scroll before my minds-eye. In an attempt to get more things done in half the speed I thought I was super smart by multi-tasking most things!
I would need to update something on my website, get distracted by the billing section, go to my wallet in the kitchen, then tidy the bench, reach for my phone, check social media whilst unloading the dishwasher, as I walked past the fridge to put something away, I’d open the fridge to check what was for dinner. By then I would wonder what on earth I was intending to do in the first place!
I read somewhere that when you multi-task you reduce your intelligence by 17% in each task that you’re undertaking. Ouch! I seriously don’t have that much intelligence to lose in any task! (This remains my constant reminder if I slip back into multi-tasking!)
The wonderful thing about mindfulness is that the more you practise the better you get.
Think of your mind like a muscle, each “weight” that you lift increases your strength. That is, each mindful practise you engage in increases the neurological pathways needed for that practise.
The first time you attempt to focus your attention on an activity, say on listening, you might tune into a sound only to think about anything but that sound just nano-seconds later. That’s OK. That’s totally natural.
The exercise here, is that when you get distracted, and you think about that phone call you need to make while you’re attempting to listen with focused attention on your breathing, you can bring your attention back to the breathing after being distracted.
Each time you drag your mind back to that which it was intended to be focussing on is another weight your mind has lifted. That’s right, the exercise is in the coming back! That’s how you build your mind muscle – get distracted and come back. Now that I can do!
Each time you do this practise, of focussed attention, you are building that neurological pathway stronger and stronger till one day you get a little less distracted. Then a bit later on you find those thoughts don’t actually distract you as much anymore, they sort of just slide through your mind without hanging out.
Think of it like this. In Australia the ground can get really hard during the summer months. If it rains the water just flows over the whole surface without direction. As a kid I used to love making channels in the hard dirt with a stick. I’d scrap and scrap till a small groove was formed so that the water would then flow through the channel instead of over the whole surface. Then I sit back and watch the water flowing.
That’s a bit like our mind. Each time we get practise, get distracted, bring our attention back is like my little stick scraping away at the hard dirt.
Before long you’ll discover a “channel” has formed. This is when you actually notice that you’re getting distracted. It’s like you step outside of your thoughts. You can observe the thoughts, just like I observed the water flowing.
Instead of the water, or thoughts, going everywhere, they are now flowing down the channel where you can watch them.
Thoughts come into view, you recognise them, “Oh, that’s the 10:00 appointment I have, best not forget”, and then let them slide on out of view, instead of getting stuck thinking about that 10 o’clocker and everything that it means.
When you get to this point – taking a step back and noticing your thoughts from ‘outside’ - is the point that your thoughts no longer take charge of your mind. You have then discovered that you are bigger than your thoughts!
I can do that now.
Yes, I’m proud to say that she, who had a hectic chaotic mind several years ago, can now stand back and observe her thoughts!
My mind can now focus on something, a flower for example, and give it my hundred percent attention. (You have no idea how excited I am when I reflect on this! My mind used to be a crazy scary place to hang out in in the past!).
Why don’t you find a moment during your day today to really focus on something, bringing that thing your full attention?
It might be a conversation with a loved one. Or bringing full focus onto a task that you’re undertaking, your work or a walk. Or intently watch something, like a bird, with full captivity.
Keep at it till nothing else seems to exist in that moment but that one thing for a few minutes.
Then, do this again tomorrow, and the next day. Each time try and hold your focus just a few moments longer. After a week check-in to see how your attention span has grown, or not, it doesn’t matter. Remember, the goal is the learning. The journey is the most important thing here.
I'm living proof that a crazy, chaotic mind really can be still and have focussed attention. If I can do it, so can you!