A friend of mine with a great deal of experience with Buddhist practice, uses the word “concentration” practice for what I tend to think of as stable attention.
As usual with these things, it is an opportunity for inquiry, for trying it out.
What I know for myself, is that several of the usual tools work quite well for me with the stability practice.
I can bring attention to the sensations at the tip of the nostrils, or something the belly, or the whole-body experience of the in-breath and out-breath. (There is a quite noticeable change throughout the whole body from the ordinary in- and out-breath.)
If attention wanders, I can add counting, for instance counting to ten on the outbreath while still keeping most attention on the sensations. If attention still wanders, I can count on the in-breath and out-breath, and also check my posture. If I lie down, I can move to my back. If I sit, I can move closer to vertical with my spine, putting out the chest a little, imagining a thread attached to the top of the head. I can also breathe a little deeper, allowing the outbreath to go a little further, which invites the inbreath to go a little further. I can bring in a little more light to where I am, letting in more daylight or turning on lights.
If there is some tension there, I can allow it all to relax a little while still keeping stable attention. I can remind myself of how it is to lie in a hammock on a beautiful summer day, and bring some of that to my posture. I can check the muscles and allow the ones that are a little tense to relax. If I am counting, I can try without counting for a while.
I can also do some body-centered practices in advance, and for me, right now, it tends to be Breema. It seems to shift my system in the direction of a deeply relaxed alertness.
And for me, food is also important. If I eat dairy, my system gets quite sluggish, and the same if I eat too much of heavy foods. If I eat too much sugar, in any form, attention tends to get scattered. And the same with overly refined foods, artificial flavoring, and chocolate cake…! Simple, old fashioned foods seem to work best for me. Vegetables. Some fruit. Some grain. Right now, a little meat occasionally. More cooked food in cold/wet weather, and more raw food in warm/dry weather. Lots of water. Some herbal or spice tea. And in the right amounts, just enough.
All of that, and a few more things, seem to work well for me.
Before trying the word “concentration” I assumed it would help with wandering attention, with being a little loose in the practice. But when I tried adding it, what I mostly noticed was additional tension, a “should” that came in. For me, right now, that words triggers a tiny bit of stress. I sat with it, allowing and welcoming the experience. And then asked myself, how would it be without that association? And I could see that the word indeed helped with a stable attention.
It is a good reminder that these pointers are not for everyone all the time. For my friend, I suspect the word does help a stable attention. For me, right now, it initially triggers stress. But taking a closer look, there is a shift behind that into support for a more stable attention.
These pointers are all tools. If they work, that’s good and I’ll keep using them. If they don’t, I can try another tool, or if I am curious, I can take a closer look at what is going on. Is there a way it will work for me?
- stable attention
- association – effort, slight force, too tight string
- may be helpful at the very first, but then extra
- stable attention
- more accurate
- gentle, relaxed, alert, stable attention
– stable attention = adaptogen
– concentration, may help if scattered, but other things seem to help better for me (counting on in- and out-breath, erect position)