In my last blog post I started with a relatively bold statement, that I was going to introduce some concepts and practices that will help gain clarity on your Purpose – what you are meant to do with your life. Whoa!! Writing that again feels almost like an overstep, but over the past few years I have personally gained more clarity, using the tools that I am unpacking for you now. Last time I started by saying the first key is to gain control of your mind, and we started by Focusing on One Thing – specifically the breath. If you missed that one, give it a read first and then come back for Step 2.
When we begin to practice breath awareness, training our concentration powers by focusing on something simple like our breathing pattern, it can be frustrating. It’s hard for our brains to focus on one thing when there is so much going on in our lives that we feel like we need to figure out right now! So while you are trying to sit quietly and focus like a Buddhist monk, your “monkey mind” is throwing thoughts into the mix that might be tangential to what you are doing, like “this is boring,” or “I wonder how long I’ve been doing this.” Or they might be completely unrelated, like “what am I going to have for lunch?” or “how am I going to talk to my boss about that project that is falling behind?”
The first step to improve your ability to focus is to notice the thought arising, and then just let it go. Recognize that your thoughts are not you, they are just brain activity brought on by an external stimulus or trigger, or maybe an internal emotional trigger. In either case, you don’t have to hold on to them – at least not right now. Just notice that you are thinking, and let the thought float past you like a cloud, and then it’s gone and you’re back to your breath awareness practice. Over time, you will get better and better at the speed at which you notice that you are not focused anymore and thinking, and then getting back into your practice. The part of you that notices the thinking is called your Witness. You could think of it also as your consciousness. You can be conscious of your own thoughts, and learn to control the quantity, and then even the quality of your thoughts.
Controlling and improving the quality of your thoughts will be the next topic we’ll dive into. For now, if you’re with us on this journey toward self-realization, keep practicing your Box Breathing for improved concentration, and practice noticing when thoughts come up. Don’t judge the thought or judge yourself for having it, but just notice it and let it glide away. Then back to the breath. Train once per day in the morning for 5 minutes when the house is nice and quiet, or as a spot drill during the day if you can find some quiet time with no distractions.
Please reach out with any questions, or any insights that you’ve gained so far!