“While Meditating I Get Lost in My Thoughts. I’m Failing, Right?” Wrong!

Mindfulness is the optimal interaction between attention and peripheral awareness. — Culadasa

Have you ever tried to meditate? 🙂 If so, you probably know that, once one has chosen an anchor, like the breath, a mantra or body sensations, the basic instruction consists in bringing the attention back to it over and over again. What normally happens is that, after few moments of practice, the mind starts to wander. As we completely forget about the anchor, we focus our attention on the upcoming holiday, our shopping, how someone behaved, and so on. Can you relate to this? 🙂
How do you feel when you realize that you have been lost in your thoughts?
Often we perceive it as very frustrating and we get angry at ourselves.
The same happens every time we find ourselves in a challenging situation and instead of responding to it from a deeper place, we react in the same old way. I should know better by now!, we often think.

Does this sound familiar to you? Do you think that you are failing?
If so, I have good news for you. You are actually improving! 🙂
If you are wondering why, in this post you can find the answer 🙂

A couple of days ago, while I was listening to Culadasa, meditation master and neuroscientist, I realized for the first time that awareness and attention are two distinct and complementary ways of knowing the world. In fact, even if often the two words are used interchangeably, they really mean two completely different things! They also involve two distinct regions of the brain. While awareness allows us to know the context, attention analyzes the details of what is going on. In other words, even if we pay attention to one thing, at the same time we can still be aware of many others happening in the surroundings.
This is immediately clear if you think about the following situation. Let’s assume that you are sitting on a bench at the park talking with a friend. While you are focusing your attention on the conversation, you can still experience a dog barking, the smell of the flowers, people talking nearby and a soft breeze. All of this thanks to your peripheral awareness 🙂

Attention singles out some small part of the content of the field of conscious awareness from the rest to analyze and interpret it. — Culadasa

Another important aspect is the natural tendency of attention to constantly scan all around, looking for disturbances. For example, every time we hear a strange sound we immediately focus all our attention on it. Even though this skill is very important for survival, if not used properly, it can become very limiting, because we easily forget about the context. In other words, when we are so focused on how we think things should be, we do not see them anymore for what they really are.

To better understand the relationship between awareness and attention we can use the following analogy, introduced by Anita Moorjani in her TED talk. Imagine yourself in a huge dark warehouse, holding a flashlight in your hands. What you are conscious of is what is shown by the beam of light, what remains in the dark represents your unconsciousness. When you focus your attention on something the beam of light gets very intense and narrow, while with awareness it expands and allows you to experience more of what is around you.

How does this all have to do with meditation? 🙂 What is the purpose of focusing our attention on an anchor?

First of all, while focusing your attention on an anchor you limit the constant need of the mind to jump here and there in search for disturbances. In other words you stabilize it.

“Why am I trying to focus my attention on a particular object during meditation?” Because so it gets out of the way, and you can develop peripheral awareness. — Culadasa

What happens when we get lost in our thoughts? It is a wonderful opportunity to train our peripheral awareness 🙂 In fact, when we realize that our mind is wandering, we are actually using our introspective awareness 🙂 Every time it happens, we are strengthening it a little bit more, and, in turn, this helps us to stabilize even further our attention.

Once the mind is calm enough, we can begin to direct our awareness internally. This way we can experience what is happening in our own mind and allow the unconscious part of it to gradually emerge.
we can start to recognize your limiting beliefs. This gives us the freedom to choose differently 🙂

Next time you will catch yourself lost in thoughts, instead of getting angry, smile and compliment yourself. Remember that now you are a step closer to discovering who you truly are 🙂

You have no need to travel anywhere. Journey within yourself, enter a mine of rubies and bathe in the splendor of your own light. — Rumi

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