Focused Attention (FA) Meditation
Attention Regulation Skills
- A ‘meta’ monitoring awareness that allows you to quickly recognize distractions as they occur, without getting lost in them for prolonged periods.
- The ability to disengage from a distracting object without further involvement. The ability to let go of, or shift your attention away from, thoughts, emotions, sensations, that may be diverting your attention.
- The ability to re-focus on the chosen object of attention.
The Concept of Relaxed, Non-Judgemental Concentration
How To Do Focused Attention Meditation
Meditation Practice 1
- STAGE 1. In the first stage you use counting to stay focused on the breath. Take a deep, breath, expanding your belly and keeping your shoulders relaxed. After the out-breath, just before your next in-breath, you count one. You then repeat the breath cycle and at the end of the second outbreath count two, and so on up to ten. And then you start again at one. If you lose track of your counting during this practice, simply start your counting again at one.
- STAGE 2. In the second stage you subtly shift where you attend to as you breathe, counting before the in-breath, anticipating the breath that is coming, but still counting from one to ten, and then starting again at one.
- STAGE 3. In the third stage you drop the counting and simply attend to the breath as it comes in and goes out, feeling the sensations of the chest and belly and nose as you breath in and out. If you get distracted by sensations in other parts of the body, or thoughts or images that take you out of the zone of your focus, gently turn your attention back to the breath and the sensation it provides.
- STAGE 4. In the final stage the focus of concentration narrows and sharpens, so you pay attention to the subtle sensation on the tip of the nose where the breath enters and leaves the body. Once again, you should be gaining useful practice in the three attention skills of monitoring, dis-engaging from distraction and re-focusing on the focal point.
Meditation Practice 2
- Take a deep, cleansing breath, expanding your belly and keeping your shoulders relaxed, and hold it in for the count of six. Exhale, and repeat twice more.
- Breathe normally, and focus your attention on your breathing. As you breathe expand your belly rather than moving your shoulders up and down. This is called abdominal breathing. Don’t breathe too quickly or too slowly; just breathe at a natural rate, but more deeply. You could try to breathe out for a little longer than you breath in which has a relaxing effect. If your thoughts drift toward the stresses of the day ahead or of the day behind you, gently refocus on your breathing and remain in the present moment.
- Continue this for as little or as long as you like, and as you continue you should notice that your body is more relaxed and your mind is more centered.
Meditation Practice 3: Brain Cross Training Example
- 20 minutes of counting meditation (e.g. Stage 1 or Stage 2 of Meditation Practice 1 above).
- 10 minute of walking meditation with close attention to each footfall.
- Aerobic exercise: gym treadmills or stationary bicycles at a moderate pace for 30 minutes (with five minutes of warming up and five minutes of cooling down).
Common Issues for Meditators
Mind Wandering – Getting Lost In Thought
“There is no need to get rid of thoughts; this is not the purpose of meditation. Rather, we are learning to recognize when thinking is happening so we are not lost in a trance—believing thoughts to be reality, becoming identified with thoughts. Because we are so often in a thinking trance, it is helpful to quiet down some. Just like a body of water stirred up by the winds, after being physically still for a while, your mind will gradually calm down…It takes practice to distinguish the trance of thinking – fantasy, planning, commentary, dreamy states – from the presence that directly receives the changing experience of this moment.”
Physical Pain (and Emotional Difficulty)
- Sit every day if possible, even if it’s for a short period. Intentionally dedicate this time of quieting.
- Give it time. Meditation takes practice. If you’re expecting to do it perfectly you may create more stress for yourself than you relieve, and you won’t want to stick with it.
- If one type of focused attention meditation doesn’t work for you, try another one. Experiment to find one that works for you. Also note that focused attention meditation cultivates concentration – it is not the same as open monitoring meditation or some other types of mindfulness meditation that have their own distinctive benefits.
- Start with shorter sessions (e.g. 5 minutes) and work your way up to longer sessions (e.g. 3o). With practice, this type of meditation becomes easier and more effective.
- If you miss practice for a day, a week, or a month, simply begin again.
- Practice regularly with a friend or group if you can organize it. You may consider joining a group.
- Use inspiring resources such as books, CD’s or web-accessed dharma talks. Consider using guided meditations that you download or stream from the internet.
- Sign up for a retreat—one day, a weekend, or longer. The experience will deepen your practice.
- If you need guidance, ask for help from an experienced meditator or teacher.
- Don’t’ be put off by spiritual or Buddhist conceptualizations if the practice proves to be effective!