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Concentration has its place, but in terms of meditation and combat, it is not desirable. A more appropriate skill is 'attention'.
Attention is the ability to have awareness without shutting out everything else. It is about being one with the moment; present and alert. There is no process of isolation or exclusion.
You are being mindful.
Technology has shaped consciousness. We have become an easily distracted society with very short attention spans.
Stagnation, intellectual decline and an increase in apathy are the unfortunate side-effects of a reduced capacity to pay attention.
Modern people are seldom fully present. They try to 'multi-task'. Even when there are no obvious, visible distractions, they somehow manage to be elsewhere.
These same people worry about Alzheimer's disease...
Looking is narrow
Looking is focussed and narrow. Seeing is expansive and open. Meditation is the condition of being present, of seeing without impediment.
You are very much in the immediate moment: feeling, seeing, experiencing. There are no thoughts and no worries.
By seeing, you receive a greater amount of information and you can subconsciously process it quickly. Looking is selective, choosing to see only what you have decided to see.
This narrowing of attention is concentration, focus - and involves shutting out one thing in favour of another. Looking is necessary when you want to be selective, but seeing is preferable overall.
Attention is not fixation. Your aim is to be in the moment, not to become tense. Remain calm and expansive, open and receptive. But continue to notice things.
Attention is very different from
what is usually called concentration. Concentration is usually associated
with a state of over-tension manifested by a furrowed brow and interference
with breathing, almost as though one were trying to hold everything in place
so as to be able to focus totally on a certain aspect of one's surroundings.
The myth of multi-tasking
Focussing can cause anxiety. You address one concern and ignore another. The more concerns you have, the harder it is to address them all skilfully. This approach is like juggling.
Instead of going with the flow and feeling what is happening, you are trying desperately to catch one ball whilst keeping all the others still up in the air.
Multi-tasking is jargon acquired from the computer industry. It is the process where a PC rapidly flicks between activities whilst giving the illusion of continuous presence.
People can multi-task, but at a price (stress and loss of competence). 'Single-tasking' produces far better results and does not adversely affect mental health.
Sometimes it is beneficial to look at the individual details and address them in depth. At other times, you must consider the overall event and feel the essence of what is happening, the flow.
Keeping your mind on what you are doing is excellent. It improves quality.
People are conditioned to think that they are missing out on something. Our culture is saturated with advertising specifically designed to encourage insecurity and restlessness.
Sometimes, it is good to be distracted, to notice unexpected possibilities, to wander off in new directions.
However, there is a danger with distraction: the more distracted you become, the less competent you are.
Modern culture has honed distraction to a high level; with countless diversions designed to off-set boredom.
Individuals who are impatient and aggressive, greedy and acquisitive you are essentially at war with yourself.
Awareness is all about noticing things. Being conscious of what is happening all around you, in this immediate moment.
It is not possible to be fully conscious of the moment and simultaneously have thoughts chattering away in your head.
Thoughts are a consequence of memory, the past. The emergent moment cannot be commented on as it is happening. You can only think about something after it has occurred.
The emergent moment
Meditation is beyond all exercises and methods. It is about being here. Not chattering away in our heads. Being present occurs when you stop seeking, looking, pushing and struggling.
You are present in the here and now. Totally present, not caught up in memories, anxieties and thinking. There are no conscious thoughts in your mind.
Eventually, no method, exercise, discipline or practice is required.
cannot practice taijiquan with the rational mind. The most difficult thing for
beginning students is that they try to make the movements with their minds and
they cannot. The movements are too complicated. The flowing of the hands, the
correct timing, the bending of the knees, the breathing, the balance; all this
cannot be controlled by the mind.
The pianist cannot think of each note as she plays it, it must simply be there. Just leave the body alone. When we do not interfere with it, the body moves with the tao spontaneously.
7 August 1996
Last updated 20 December 2020