Mindfulness – focused or unfocused explained

Mindfulness – focused or unfocused explained

Mindfulness is a buzz word these days, the thing to do, but is ‘being in the moment’ doing? It can be.

The practice of mindfulness – the act of purposely paying attention and being aware of the experience of the moment you are living, without judgement – is an active thing in itself; focusing and paying attention takes effort and energy whether you are practising mindfulness in a formal sitting for a focused or guided meditation, or more informally while you’re doing things such as practicing open awareness whilst taking a walk.

Mindfulness has been defined as awareness, but its more than that. Mindfulness has been defined as paying attention, but its more than that. Mindfulness has been described as consciousness, but its more than that too.

Yet mindfulness IS awareness, IS consciousness, and it IS paying attention. But it is also about cultivating a quality of mind, a mental stance that notices, on purpose, and without judgement or attachment. It’s about cultivating a balance of mind that does not favour one thing or reject another. A mind that allows things to arise and pass away without trying to hold on or push away. It’s coming to see things, the experience of the moment, whatever is happening, clearly.

Mindfulness is an ongoing practice, not an end result. The intention is to cultivate awareness, the attention is on the experience of the present moment, and the attitudinal address is curiosity in a non judgemental way, with kindness. Mindfulness is a practice that, when coupled with the practice of Vipassana, the gentle open exploration of whatever arises, can bring about the real rewards of understanding, equanimity, and wisdom.

Benefits

There are many other benefits, particularly health and mental health benefits, that have been confirmed by numerous clinical trials. The results prove the efficacy, particularly in emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing.

It’s worth mentioning here that the word well-being encapsulates a weave of things including what Aristotle had to say when referencing Eudaimonic well-being (as opposed to hedonistic), is was said to be central to … ’reasoning, happiness, and a rich and fulfilling life; and a start point for thinking about the nature of human life – its virtue and ultimate fulfillment’.

But back to forms of mindfulness, focused and unfocused.

Focused mindfulness, where the breath, mantra or object is the focus of attention.

Focused mindfulness is the best way to learn mindfulness – and it’s easy to learn and practice. Using an object, like sounds or the breath, for the mind to pay attention to helps keep other thoughts and emotions at bay, easing restlessness and steadying the mind.

If the mind wanders off as it tends to do, practising focused mindfulness will help you to recognise this and bring the attention back to the object. This is an active practice of concentration and focus, and it takes energy to do it.

Most focused mindfulness is practiced formally as a sitting or guided sitting meditation such as breath awareness, mindfulness of the senses or metta (loving kindness/compassion) meditation. There is also a focused formal mindful walking practice, more about that later.

If you are time or interest poor and want to try a short focussed practice, you can use any task, and just do it mindfully. My favourites are a ‘mindful mouthful’ or a ‘single sip’. These two activities happen all the time, the mindful mouthful takes longer than the single sip so I have written the practice out below. If you only want the quick single sip exercise, just cut out everything but the mouth and sip.

Mindful Mouthful / Single Sip exercise

First taking a breath – and if you can it’s good to keep a tiny piece of attention on the breath throughout this exercise – then pause to note to yourself that you are doing this practice.

To begin, be aware of the movement of the head and eyes in assessing where the cup of liquid is. Note the tension in the shoulder and arm as you begin the movement to reach out to the glass, then as the hand lifts let your focus settle on the movement of all the muscles.

Feel the stretch of the fingers to the glass. Note the contraction of the muscles as they grasp it, note the temperature of it, and the weight as your muscles contract and move to lift it.

Notice how the mouth prepares to receive the liquid, the relaxing of the jaw, the repositioning of the lips and mouth. Follow the continuing flex and movement of muscle in the arm and hand, the re-positioning of the head to receive the liquid, the feel of the glass and then the liquid on the lips as you take it in.

The inbreath sip, the temperature and taste, the tongue and jaw movement to swallow, the throat contraction and release, the mouth re opening, jaws dropping to release the glass. The sensations in the throat and stomach having received the sip.

The wrist tipping back, flexing, straightening the arm, the head turning and tilting while the arm and hand moves to replace the glass from where it came. The release of the fingers on the glass, the relaxing of the muscle tension in the shoulder, arm, hand and fingers, the repositioning of the head. Next note the intention to end the exercise, noticing any sensations, thoughts, or feelings about having done so.

This exercise can take moments or minutes, its up to you, each time.

Unfocused mindfulness, or ‘open’ mindfulness, is where we notice whatever it is that comes to our attention.

Unfocused mindfulness is to open the mind, it is a non directive meditation to allow a mental spaciousness and ease that can encompass whatever happens in and around you, without getting caught up in it.

A teacher once explained to me that he felt it as a gentle wise and caring person sitting on a bench in a playground, aware of the children and dogs playing, aware of the sights and sounds, the smells, noticing thoughts, reactions and emotions appearing and passing through as different aspects of sights and sounds happened, but rather than getting caught up in them, not responding to urges to be anything, do anything or go anywhere, just content to just be here, open and gently curious, fully aware and present.

Informal movement

Sometimes I practice both focused and unfocused meditation at the same time, particularly during movement practices or bush walks. Put simply I pay attention to my breath and muscles then hold them in semi awareness whilst practising ‘open senses’ awareness of whatever is happening in the creation around me.

For those who prefer a more overall practice here are some guidelines.

Before you begin take scan of how your body feels and make a point of noting it. Is your body feeling light, heavy, limber, stiff? Note your emotional and mental condition, is your emotion balanced or a bit wobbly? Your mind clear or cloudy? if you can, name what state is present in you (well, happy, upset, anxious).

When you’ve finished the scan let everything you’ve come to go, let it float away.

Informal Movement meditation

Now bring your attention to the whole body. As you do your warm up exercises, get an overall sense of how the movement feels then try and match your breath to your movements – not too slow, not too quick, just allow your body movement and your breath to synchronise naturally.

When you begin to move bring your toes and foot muscles into awareness, then the legs, knees, and lastly thighs. Notice the balance and movement, the rhythm and pace and the flow of the muscles as you move.

Next bring in your hips to awareness, noting the different tensions and balances in the lower body as the ground changes.

Next bring in upper body, noticing the arms, chest and the breath, allowing the breath and bodily movements to synchronise, finding the ease of rhythm.

Then open awareness out, allowing all the senses to flow in.
Noticing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch … letting it all arrive and pass, come and go and flow. Inviting an awareness of the whole body in action and in harmony.

At the end of the exercise, stop and take time to scan the body again. Noting the changes in the body, emotion, the mind, and mental state.

For those who prefer to undertake the formal walking meditation, an introduction to the formal walking practice can be found on the website under the heading ‘In the Workplace’ and called ‘Walk the Block” from the link below.

Be active. Be well.
AL

Access meditations … here …