Student: Why is it that we are only able to focus our attention so briefly in meditation?
It happens so quickly that the thought stream gets occupied with something else, and I only notice this sometimes after a long period of time. Does there exist a method to enable one to keep the focus in the moment?
Jivanjili: Here are several focus techniques. It is important to get skilful guidance while practicing meditation. Never make it a rigid practice, practice whole-heartedly.
The art is to time after time, when you notice that you are distracted, bring your attention back to your breathing. It demands training, practice, discipline. The word ‘disciple’ (student) comes from discipline. One becomes skilful in something by practicing. You are well practiced in paying a lot of attention to considering the contents of your thoughts. Now you should pay full attention to your breathing in the moment, in every second. When you notice that you “went astray” again, bring your attention back to your breathing. Be alert to the moment that you want to stand up or walk away, or how attractive the thought stream seems to be…and go back to your breathing.
The deeper the breathing is, the more tranquil the thinking appears. Observe this: when you are thinking chaotically, your breathing is also going faster and becomes shallower; these all go together. This is an immediate indication that genuine silence is linked with neutrality.
Keep observing. What happens when you stay relaxed from abdominal respiration, and observe the thought stream coming and going like trains passing through a central station without stepping into any of them? It is not that your thoughts are stopped. Thoughts are thought, food is digested, the bloodstream is circulating, and the heart is beating. It just happens’ without evaluation or control. Thinking loses its meaning, it carries no weight.
This truly demands practice.
Zen knows a technique where one sits in front of an empty wall. This technique is called Zazen, or sitting in Zen. I can tell you that myriads of things can appear on that wall, complete movies! But it is a clear reflection of thinking. By observing that the images are coming and going, by only paying attention to the in- and out breathing, the in- and out breathing, eventually it becomes quieter, quieter. Slowly, slowly the identification with the images loosens like old glue that doesn’t want to stick anymore, and it becomes quieter and stiller, less busy and less hectic. A moment comes when you do not pay attention to the movie anymore; it has lost its power. We could say that the mind is still. You also could say: I rest in peace, in emptiness, in the silence that permeates all the appearances, neutral, free and clear.
There also is a focus technique in Zen that is called “counting from hundred to zero.” You will not reach ninety-eight without getting distracted by your thoughts! And then you restart again at hundred. And then you make it to ninety-nine and you restart at hundred.
Eighty-eight, eighty- seven, eighty-six, eighty-five, eighty-four….
It seems like the thinking-knot gives up eventually. What happens is that you do not feed the content of the thinking, and something you don’t feed doesn’t grow. It withers a bit, like it would say: “Well, she does not pay attention to me anyhow.” It becomes quieter.
These are some focus-techniques. They are so simple and so deep. One assistance of this kind, one key like this, if consistently applied, is enough to come home.
Trust the keys that are handed out and start using them; they open doors that reveal your True Nature.