Your Distractible Mind

Purple chaos

It’s so easy to compare and judge, thinking that YOUR mind is the least focused one around. You know – forgetting words, losing things, wondering why you’ve just gone upstairs, jumping from thought to thought. A question I hear in EVERY SHINE session is, “How can I keep my mind from wandering?”

In his recent post at the Huffington Post blog, Dan Goleman, cites Wendy Hasenkamp’s recent research at Emory University, to help us see that stopping the mind from wandering is not the point. Each time it wanders, and we NOTICE it, we can literally train our brain to focus, and strengthen the neural circuits of concentration. We hit the reset button each time, and in so doing, are becoming more adept at keeping our attention where we’d like it to be.

Here’s how we teach this in SHINE, using awareness of the breath as the anchor for attention:

1. You focus your attention on your breath (by sensing its movement).
2. Your mind just wanders off (we sometimes refer to this as “Elvis has left the building”).
3. You NOTICE that your mind wandered off.
4. You gently return your attention back to the breath.

With mindfulness practice, we return our attention – again and again and again – to the breath (or sounds, or sensations). That’s it. Not creating any drama when the mind wanders. No blaming or judging or worrying that we’re doing it wrong. Just noticing with kind and friendly attention, and then returning to the breath.

Try this for yourself. While it sounds simple, it is not easy. The important part is to be really kind to yourself each time Elvis leaves the building (or who or whatever image works for you).

Thomas Merton wrote, “Start where you are and deepen what you have.” 

Where we are is right here, right now. Practicing mindfulness is NOT about going somewhere else in your imagination – to a blissed out beach with lilting ocean breezes, or a mountaintop with a majestic view. It is about being more present to the full range of what is happening in your life at this moment, as it is unfolding.

So find and follow your breath. Be curious. Notice what happens!

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