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Staying Focused and Working on Mindfulness

A reader writes:

I am a sort of Buddhist novice, trying to reach mindfulness, and practice mindful action even in ordinary life.

What I don’t know and would like to ask you is – are there any specific techniques / tools to discern the moments of weakness when you are slipping and losing your concentration, succumbing to ones fears and anxiety, both in meditation and/or in one’s everyday life (with its pressures and all)?

I’m asking that because I feel that if I improved in this, I could make a huge progress in my practice.

O. R.
Czech Republic

My response:

This is something that we all have to work through, myself included. It’s a matter that falls under the concept of “Right Mindfulness.” Staying focused on the task or problem at hand and not getting distracted.

You have the right idea when you say you have trouble both while meditating and out in everyday life. This is the point of Right Mindfulness, which is often confused with Right Concentration, which is not the same thing, but definitely have some overlap here.  If you can stay on task, keeping yourself focused on the job, you’re doing better than many of us. Most of us have great plans to live a Buddhist lifestyle and then before we even get to work, we’ve given someone the finger on our drive or smoked a cigarette on the way to work. It’s easy to forget and be distracted by real-world events.

You would think things would be different at home or at a meditation center, when you’re sitting on a cushion, in whatever position works best for you. Staying focused should be easy, right? Nope– Quite often it’s even worse. This is where the idea of “Monkey Mind” comes in. We all have a little thought-monkey in our heads that jumps from mental tree to mental tree, making as much noise and chatter as it can– but only when we’re trying to clear our minds of all thoughts. These mental distractions can be just as bad or worse than the external distractions that we run into daily.

Clearing out these distractions is the goal of all meditators, whether you’re meditating on a koan, doing walking meditation, or simply trying to clear your mind. The path to eventual victory is continued practice and knowledge that we all have this problem to some extent, even the monks who meditate all day have the problem from time to time. They have, however, learned to deal with it. When they feel their minds wandering, they immediately recognize that their minds are wandering and re-focus. It sounds a little redundant, but they are mindful of their distractions. This is what you need to watch for, and realize when you have wandered. Don’t chastise yourself for the monkey-attack, but instead just refocus and get back to it.

Another possible suggestion is to vary your style of meditation. Instead of sitting in the same place doing the same thing all the time, try some walking meditation, or try doing a mantra. Mix it up a little. When walking or repeating a mantra, your mind is, while not exactly busy, at least doing something, and this might be enough to make a difference.

Just remember to be here in the present moment, doing whatever it is you’re doing. Be here now.



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