Friday, January 2, 2009


I'm one of those guys who always talks about how they hate new year's resolutions and then makes a bunch anyway. Hi, nice to meet you.

One thing that has been weighing on me for a while and especially since I've had kids is that my concentration seems to be a faint shadow of it's former glory. It's probably partly age and partly the induced ADD of having to watch over young children. And don't forget the internets. Damn those tubes!

In any case I find myself so easily distracted, even when I'm doing something that I really enjoy. There seems to be a constantly growing wave of research and advice on this topic and much of it points to meditation/mindfulness as being a practice that will increase your ability to focus. Most recently I read this when going through Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor your Wetware.

I've actually had as a goal for at least a year to do 8 minutes a night of "watching my breath". Sometimes I'll go weeks of doing this every night. Sometimes I go weeks without even thinking about it.

So there are two parts to this resolution. I want to make this a do not skip part of my nightly routine. And I also want to increase the time to 20 minutes. There is probably nothing magic about the number 8 or 20, but I more often see recommended numbers closer to (at least) 20, so that will be my target. So the other part is to increase my time limit by 1 minute a month all of this year. This will bring me ever so slowly and gently to 20 minutes.

So with any luck, by the end of the year laser beams will be coming to me for advice on how to be so focused.

Any long term mindfulness practitioners out there with advice/encouragement?


country mouse said...

mindfulness practice is far more forgiving than any of our other resolutions like weight loss etc. If you find yourself having stopped doing it, start over again.

Mindfulness practice is not easy. Once you've gone through the basics of increasing your focus, you find yourself becoming increasingly aware of what's around you and if that is painful, it's not so easy to focus. Your natural reaction will be to avoid because you may not be ready to deal with what's painful. I've learned (but still can't practice) that maintaining mindfulness in the face of something painful helps you make better decisions and have a better relationship to that pain. As more than one teacher has said "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" avoiding what's painful is suffering.

I'd also suggest not putting a goal/limit on the time you spend. If you can only do it for 30 seconds in the car just before you get make the transition to or from work, then that's something really good.

dustbunny said...

Thanks for the comment. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a co-worker. I mentioned I had been trying some meditation and reading some zen stuff and I asked him what he thought being enlightened was. And he said that someone could kick you in the nuts and you wouldn't even feel it.

I'm no expert on mindfulness and zen and such things but that answer seemed wrong on almost every level.

I frequently use this response as an example of wrongness perfection.

Not entirely germane, but your comment brought that to mind....

country mouse said...

sometimes I think enlightenment is highly overrated but that's the opinion of the non-enlightened being.

your coworkers comment illustrates just how much people don't understand meditation. for example, the comment about "not caring" is a bastardization of "freedom from desire". I'm must admit that I also get confused by "freedom from desire" because I don't want to not desire the company of my wife, dog and friends (not necessarily in that order all the time or in the same way).

I've heard some people say they try not to desire anything but when I listen to them, they desire not desiring to the extent that they run the risk of pushing away what should be in their lives such as the closeness of a partner or child. Friendship, sharing good events as well as bad. To actively seek things like these to the point of harm to yourself or others is not mindful. But to drive them away or actively avoid them is also not mindful because you're using the another aspect of desire (i.e. aversion) even less mindfully.

I would be happy with simple mindfulness. To be able to accept what is freely given such as the love of my wife. To deal with all the stressors of our world with equanimity. Understand that the images I have for myself both positive and negative are constructs of unquiet mind.

to me, that's something worth trying for, desiring but only with understanding of why I desire it.

dustbunny said...

thanks again, interesting thoughts.

on a semi-related note, in the past (especially my college years) when I pondered things like meditation, enlightenment etc, it was primarily the "theory" I spent my time on. Reading Watts and Suzuki, etc it never really sunk in that zen actually means meditation. It just seemed you could read the stuff and eventually your mind's shackles would fall away and you'd turn toward the mouth of Plato's cave and walk into the bright light of truth.

Anyway, as I'm rebooting my thinking of such things I'm definitely going to go to the other extreme and pretty much only worry about practice and not worry about reading and philosophizing. That seems more zen anyway. Not that I'm trying to fit some zen model. I just want my mind back at this point.... :)

country mouse said...

"full catastrophe living" is a very good practical primer on meditation from the Western mind. It was written by Jon Kabot-Zinn as result of his stress management program at UMass medical center.

I wouldn't get too hung up on Zen. While it's the brand that seems to have the most mind share, I found that the Vipassana school was more in line with what I wanted in terms of compassion, mindfulness, and metta (loving kindness)

still, I did manage to crack a rib at a meditation retreat. had a night terror, jumped out of bed, fell over a chair, screamed, woke up. Yes, in that order.

And people think meditation is safe and easy. Silly monkeys.

dustbunny said...

I've known about the Zinn book, but the title sounded weird to me. I've decided to go into beginner mind mode and will pick it up. Thanks for the recommendation.

I'll also try to take the necessary precautions for physical safety while practicing mindfulness. :)