If you knew there was something that would make you a better partner, parent, friend, and human, wouldn’t you do it every day? The greatest gift we can give anyone is our complete attention. This is true of ourselves as well. The most effective way of practicing paying attention, is meditation.
- Find yourself a place to sit, it can be the floor or a chair.
- Sit up straight enough that you can feel your breath move in your body, but not so straight that it feels punitive.
- Let your hands rest palms down on your knees.
- Keep your eyes open and on the floor about 6-8 feet in front of you.
- Find the rhythm of your breath and let your attention rest there. You will still be aware of sounds and sensations around you, but don’t let the siren outside or the smell of french fries from a nearby restaurant become fascinating distractions, just notice them.
When your mind wanders (and it will….a lot) label that “thinking” and return to your breath. You may find yourself saying “thinking” every two seconds, that is normal.
Chogyam Trungpa called that constant internal monologue “subconscious gossip”. Just as regular gossip serves almost no purpose, our internal monologue is usually just a deluge of material rarely related to where we are and what we are doing. When we stop and actually watch our own minds we realize how busy and crowded they are. By taking time to stop, to sit, to practice being awake to who we are and the nature of our minds, we learn to pay attention.
Eyes open is something that many students struggle with, it gets easier over time. The gaze is soft, you blink normally, you are not trying to bore holes through the floor. We practice with our eyes open because, as my teacher David Nichtern says, we are not interested in becoming the worlds best mediators, we are interested in becoming better humans.
Try it for 10 minutes every day, start with a week, set a timer, and sit. If you can sit longer, sit longer, stick with it, it’s hard. Eventually, something will shift. You will notice, when a friend is talking to you, that you are not really paying attention, and you will be able to change that. You will notice, that you are eating something delicious, but thinking about how you have to go to the bank, and you will be able to change that. You will notice, you are experiencing your life differently, and so will the people around you.
Start today. This is your life, this is what you are working with, this is it.