Writing

A Shift In Attention

by | Sep 21, 2021 | 0 comments

I believe meditation has much to offer. I believe, for instance, that the practice can allow us to relax some of the gripping we do. Gripping to hopes. Gripping to fears. Gripping to expectations. Gripping to identities. All of which seems to cause a great deal of tension and suffering.

Through guiding attention toward embodied experience again and again, through shifting our attention in this way, the practice brings a little loosening into our days. When we are no longer maintaining that gripping dynamic – when attention is, instead, resting on the breath flowing into the lower belly – those clenched fingers unwind a little. We are able to loosen. We are able to relax.

But formal meditation is not the only place we see this ‘shift and loosen’ at work. While the practice is explicitly intended to cultivate this pairing, it’s not the only place it occurs. As household practitioners – people balancing our engagement with meditation with busy contemporary lives – this seems important to understand. Such knowing affords us precious opportunities to perceive and acknowledge and perhaps even deepen the role the affecting dynamic of meditation plays in our daily lives.

Take a few minutes ago. Caught up in a whirlwind of things to do, I found myself gripping in many of the ways noted above. ‘I have to do this. I have to do that. This isn’t fair. I want something else.’ First, there was a moment of recognition: ‘I’m holding tight again. And I’m miserable.’ Then came a shift in attention.

I was standing beside a window when this happened. As I stood there feeling the tension that had immersed my being – the tension lurking beneath that word ‘miserable’ – I caught a momentary glimpse of the sky. In retrospect, it could have been anything: the sound of a voice, the scent of fresh-baked cookies, a warm to touch stove. In this instance, however, it was the sky.

I recognized gripping, caught a glimpse of the sky, and with this latter occurrence, attention shifted. For just a moment, my mind moved away from that list of tasks and complaints. For just a moment, I looked up at that vast stretch of blue, at the light wisps of cloud brushing the edges of my vision, at the gentle breeze tickling nearby treetops.

I looked at the sky for just a moment and, wouldn’t you know it: my shoulders relaxed and my jaw softened and my breathing deepened. My sense of needing to do this and that unwound a little. An unwinding that let me turn away from that window a few seconds later and return to my day a little more at ease. A little less gripped and a little more present.

– Neil

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