Sharon Salzberg shares this practice for strengthening your ability to concentrate so you can empower yourself to stop wasting energy and attention…
This foundational attention practice is designed to strengthen the force of concentration. If you consider how scattered, how distracted, how out of the moment we may ordinarily be, you can see the benefit of gathering our attention and our energy. All of that energy could be available to us but usually isn’t because we throw it away into distraction. We gather all of that attention and energy to become integrated, to have a center, to not be so fragmented and torn apart, to be empowered.
In this system, the breath we focus on is the normal flow of the in-and-out breath. We don’t try to make the breath deeper or different; we simply encounter it however it’s appearing, and however it’s changing.
1. To begin with, you can sit comfortably and relax. You don’t have to feel self-conscious, as though you are about to do something special or weird. Just be at ease. It helps if your back can be straight, without being strained or overarched. You can close your eyes or not, however you feel comfortable. Notice where the feeling of the breath is most predominant—at the nostrils, at the chest, or at the abdomen. Rest your attention lightly, in just
2. See if you can feel just one breath, from the beginning through the middle, to the end. If you’re with the breath at the nostrils, it may be tingling, vibration, warmth, coolness. If at the abdomen, it may be movement, pressure, stretching, release. You don’t have to name them, but feel them. It’s just one breath.
3. Notice what arises. And if images or sounds, emotions, sensations arise, but they’re not strong enough to actually take you away from the feeling of the breath, just let them flow on by. You don’t have to follow after them, you don’t have to attack them; you’re breathing. It’s like seeing a friend in a crowd— you don’t have to shove everyone else aside or make them go away, but your enthusiasm, your interest, is going toward your friend: “Oh, there’s my friend. There’s the breath.”
4. Notice when you’re distracted. When something arises—sensations, emotions, thoughts, whatever it might be—that’s strong enough to take your attention away from the feeling of the breath, or if you’ve fallen asleep, or if you get lost in some incredible fantasy, see if you can let go of the distraction and begin again, bringing your attention back to the breath. If you have to let go and begin again thousands of times, it’s fine, that’s the practice.
5. You may notice the rhythm of your breath changing in the course of this meditation session. You can just allow it to be however it is. Whatever arises, you can shepherd your attention back to the feeling of the breath.
6. Remember that in letting go of distraction the important word is gentle.We can gently let go, we can forgive ourselves for having wandered, and with great kindness to ourselves, we can begin again.
7. When you feel ready, you can open your eyes.See if you can bring this awareness of breath periodically into your day.