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“The Tribe Bringing Mindfulness to the World” – A Personal Account of SIYLI’s Teacher Certification Program, Expand

Posted on by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute
Laurie Cameron

By Laurie Cameron

I am half-way through the year-long mastery program to become a certified Search Inside Yourself Teacher.  I have been teaching executives and practicing mindfulness for two decades, so a number people in my life were surprised when I applied to join the first cohort of SIYLI teachers.   But I had a strong pull coming from that place of inner wisdom we all have – and I knew that the SIYLI experience was going to integrate well in my ongoing work.

Three Elements of the Journey

  1. The Tribe

When I walked into the serene yet buzzing room at Hotel Kabuki on the first day of session one, I could immediately tell I was home.  There was a gentleness in the smiles that greeted me near the breakfast buffet. A combination of anticipation, curiosity, depth, confidence and humility emanated from the faces of my cohort members who traveled from Singapore, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Portugal, Mexico, Maine and even Mill Valley, CA.  I am humbled and honored to be a part of this group. Our connections have deepened as we continue to experience masterful practices that cultivate  presence and connection with one another.  We have become a tribe.

  1. Our Shared Mission

I exhale with relief knowing that I am part of a global “we” in carrying out my own calling.  In our deep discussions, and sometimes debates, on the latest findings in neuroscience, mindfulness and emotional intelligence, what emerges is the realization that we are all arm-in-arm. We are unique but so alike in our passion and purpose. We share a commitment to develop ourselves and depend on each other as we forge new ground in mindful leadership in each of our geographies and business domains. Through global Google hangouts, Skype calls and emails- we send each other materials, ideas and encouragement as we do this work together.

  1. My Developmental Journey

As a confessed life-long learner, the SIYLI experience has been phenomenal. I carry with me a metaphorical string of learning moments from the masterful teachers we have had so far.

  • I have a bead for a session with Shauna Shapiro, as she gracefully walked into our circle, sat down in the middle of the room and embodied a compassionate presence that taught us more than anything on slides.
  • I have another bead for the morning when Chade Meng Tan personally challenged us to cultivate three qualities to become master teachers.
  • There is a bead for the breathtaking way Marc Lesser led an exercise took us into examining our own Ways of Being as teachers – the polarities of competencies that we need to master and integrate as go forward.
  • I have a bead for the moments that Meg Levy tuned in with wisdom and taught precisely what was needed in the moment.
  • I have one for Dan Siegel who spoke to us as a wise mentor, evoking in me a deeply charged, purposeful focus in how I go forward with the science and lessons that can help my clients become stronger, wiser leaders.
  • And I carry one for Elizabeth Lindsey’s wordless teaching.  She generously demonstrated that we are wise, loving and connected beings, and she did so in a way that affected most of us in the room at our core.

I look forward to our next two in-person retreats, and all of the connections in between. We will complete our SIYLI program with our shared mission as a tribe of Wayfinders building wise and compassionate leaders.

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How to Manage Your Body and Your Physical Space During Meditation

Posted on by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

While the meditation is primarily about the mind and the spirit, the body also plays a key part. Because emotions are coded in physical sensations, the body is an essential gateway for gaining insight into those emotions. That’s why being physically comfortable and having a conducive physical space is an important part of a good meditation practice.

If you manage your body and your space well, you’ll be able to let the physical aspects go so you can fully immerse yourself into the meditative experience. Otherwise, aches, legs falling asleep and other physical ailments can distract you from your meditation.

Your body is an important part of the meditation experience

Your body is an important part of the meditation experience

So, how can you create a conducive physical space for meditation? Just follow these four tips:

Stretch Before Starting Your Meditation

If you plan on meditating for more than ten minutes, spend a few seconds stretching out your muscles first. This helps get more blood flow to your extremities, which reduces the chances of your legs falling asleep.

Have a Regular Meditation Space

Pick a space in your home or office to use for meditation. It shouldn’t be your bed and it shouldn’t be your desk. It could be a specific chair, a mat in the corner, a dedicated meditation room or even your favorite place to stand next to the window. Using the same space regularly will create a mental anchor to that space. Your mind will naturally start to drop into a mindful state of mind whenever you move into that space, simply through repeated conditioning.

Try Different Meditation Positions

Try meditating sitting down. Try meditating standing up. Try meditation lying down. Try meditation while walking. Try it while cross legged, try it in a chair, try it in half-lotus position and try it with your legs stretched out in front of you.

Different positions work best for different people. Try out different ones to see which one(s) work best for you.

Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

Once you’ve found a posture that works for you, try out some small adjustments. For instance, crossing your legs just a little bit looser can prevent your legs from falling asleep. Sitting so your backbone lines up from top to bottom can prevent backache. Seemingly small and minute adjustments can make a big difference, especially in longer meditation sits.

Getting Physically Comfortable

By paying just a little bit of attention to how you manage your physical body, you’ll be able to free up a lot more attention for your meditation. Best of all, you don’t have to think about this all that often. Once you find something that works for you, it’ll pay off for weeks and months to come.

What posture works best for you? How do you manage your physical space during meditation? Share in the comments!

To your happiness and success,

-          Search Inside Yourself

Posted in Meditation and Mindfulness | Tagged , , , , ,

The Flow State: What It Is & How to Achieve It

Posted on by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

You’ve probably felt it before. That state where time seems to stand still, where you just seem to know exactly what to do. You’re fully immersed in the experience, taking one action after another, without thinking or distracting yourself. That’s the flow state.

In many ways, the flow state is very much like a state of meditation. The chatter in the mind fades away, as does the ego. Instead, you’re left with just the present moment – just you and the task at hand.

Find flow at work, at home or at play!

Find flow at work, at home or at play!

This flow state was first examined and written about in detail by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned psychologist. Since then, many studies have been done on the subject. Flow state has been observed in many different kinds of circumstances – from programming to surgery to all kinds of sports.

Why Cultivate a State of Flow?

There are a few key reasons to consciously cultivate this state:

  1. It’s a state of immense concentration. You’ll often get a lot done – and produce higher quality results – while in the flow state.
  2. It creates a powerful sense of clarity. You know exactly what needs to be done, without needing to think about it.
  3. Being in flow removes normal mental obstacles. Stress, worry, lack of concentration, self-doubt, all of that disappears during a flow state.
  4. The flow state is intrinsically ecstatic. Just being in the moment, facing a worthwhile challenge is highly pleasurable.

How to Create a State of Flow

A flow state cannot be forced. Instead, flow comes naturally when certain conditions are met. The primary conditions are:

  1. A challenge or task that is not too easy. Otherwise, apathy or boredom will prevent the flow state.
  2. A challenge or task that is not too difficult. Otherwise, anxiety, worry or stress will prevent the flow state.
  3. A clear goal. Flow is achieved when working towards something you care about.
  4. A focus on the process, not the goal. This may seem contrary to #3, yet is an essential part of flow. An athlete might have a goal of winning the gold medal. But the flow state is only achieved when the athlete focuses on playing the game, right now, in the moment – rather than thinking about winning the medal. Yet without the goal and the desire behind the goal, flow will not be achieved. Both the goal and the focus on the process are necessary.
  5. A lack of interruptions. The flow state is easily broken. For flow to be achieved and sustained, you need to be able to focus on the task at hand without interruption.

When these conditions are aligned, flow is a natural consequence.

Of course, meditation will also increase your natural ability to achieve flow. Meditation lets you deliberately practice going into states of concentration, as well as filtering out distractions. A consistent meditation practice, as well as the deliberate cultivation of these five flow factors, will help you achieve flow much more consistently.

What are your experiences with flow states? Are there any memorable experiences that you can share?

To your happiness and success,

-          Search Inside Yourself

Posted in Improving Attention | Tagged , , , , , , ,

How to Mindfully Prepare for Difficult Conversations

Posted on by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

Difficult conversations are difficult in large part because so many parts of ourselves get tied up into them. Our emotions, our sense of self, our ego, our sense of competence, our sense of being loved – all of that can be challenge in a difficult conversation. One of the best ways to prepare for difficult conversations is to sort out these different parts of ourselves first, before we jump into the fray.

Prepare for difficult conversations mindfully

Prepare for difficult conversations mindfully

The Three “Underlying Conversations” in Every Difficult Conversation

In every difficult conversation, there are actually three underlying conversations going on. The three are:

1)      The content of the conversation. What actually happened? Are we perceiving an attack from having done something wrong? The part of ourselves that’s most often challenged by the content of these conversations is our competence.

2)      The emotions involved. What am I feeling during this conversation? Am I being attacked – not the work itself, but myself as a person? The part of ourselves most challenged by the emotions of a conversation is our sense of being a good person.

3)      The identity conversation. Who or what am I, if what the other person says (or the underlying assumptions behind their words) are true? The part of ourselves most challenged by the identity conversation is our sense of being worthy of love.

When these three conversations get muddled into one, it’s easy to get hurt or defensive. Before going into a difficult conversation, it helps to separate these various parts of yourself. We’ll cover a specific meditation to do so in a moment. But first, let’s talk about preparing to go into a difficult conversation.

Before Going into a Difficult Conversation

Use this process to help mentally prepare for a difficult conversation.

Start by examining what’s really driving your desire to have the conversation. Is it productive – in that it would actually solve a problem, or move a project forward? Or is it reactionary – a desire to show that you were right after all, or to hurt someone who hurt you? A few minutes of meditation can help dissipate the emotional charge, so you can see what’s driving your motivations more clearly.

Also, talk to a few people you trust. Mentors, team members, and so on. The first few times you talk about an emotionally charged topic are the hardest. Once you’ve talked about it a few times, much of the emotions dissipates – allowing you to have that conversation in a clear headed manner. Talking to a third party will also allow you to get an objective perspective from them, instead of seeing it just from your point of view. Finally, talking to a neutral third party allows you to practice what you’re going to say.

Then, once you’ve done that, take some time to examine the three different parts of your mind that tend to be present in a difficult conversation. This meditation will help.

An Exercise to Prepare for the Conversation

This exercise will help you sort out the different subconscious internal conversations that go along with a difficult conversation. Identifying these various parts will help you have the conversation in a much more objective and compassionate manner – without being defensive or angry.

Here’s the exercise:

  1. Start by thinking of a specific conversation you’re about to have. Or, for practice, you can use a difficult or emotionally charged conversation you’ve had recently.
  2. Run through these three separate internal conversations separately. Ideally, speak them out loud, write them down or run through them with a friend.

    • What actually happened? Do I feel like my sense of competence is being questioned as a result of what happened?
    • What emotions are involved? Do I feel like whether or not I’m a good person is being called into question?
    • Who am I if what the other person says (or assumes) is true?  Do I feel like this makes me less worthy of love?
  3. Repeat the exercise from the other person’s point of view. How are they experiencing each of these questions?

Running through this exercise before a difficult conversation will help you remove any emotional baggage attached to the conversation. It’ll also help you see things from the other person’s view – and see why they might be feeling defensive. It’ll allow you to approach the conversation from a place of compassion and connection, rather than accusation or defensiveness.

To your happiness and success,

-          Search Inside Yourself

Posted in Better Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , ,

How to Manage Your Emails Mindfully

Posted on by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

People are often less mindful with email than they are with face to face communication. Computer screens have the tendency of creating a “zoned out” state. Yet, mindfulness in emails can be very important – in fact, it can be even more important than mindfulness in face to face communication.

Why? Because in emails, the receiver is acting on incomplete information. You don’t have all the nonverbal cues telling you what the other person is really trying to communicate. When you’re reading an email, it’s easy to misread a person’s intentions – and see an attack or criticism, where there wasn’t one. Likewise, when sending an email, it’s easy to send an email that’s received harsher than it was meant to be.

Mindful emailing can help prevent both of these situations. Mindful emailing means staying connected to yourself during the email process, as well as staying connected to the fact that you’re communicating with another human being.

Add mindfulness to your emails!

Mindfulness can improve email communication

You don’t have to practice mindfulness every time you open an email. However, practicing mindfulness during charged or potentially heated email exchanges can go a long way towards diffusing tensions and preserving relationships.

Developing Mindful Habits for Reading & Sending Emails

When you notice heat, anger or defensiveness arising during an email exchange, pause for a moment. Then go through this meditation process.

Take a Conscious Breath. Take a few moments to just pay attention to your breath. This can help “break” you out of your negative state. If you’re feeling negative emotions strongly, consider pausing for a couple minutes to do two minutes of breathing meditation.

Visualize the Sender / Recipient. Take a moment to visualize the other human being with whom you’re communicating. Become present to the fact that you’re in an exchange with another human. You’re not just typing letters into a screen, but interacting with another being. Spend a couple moments with this idea.

Re-Read the Email. If you’re sending an email, re-read the email. Remember that the receiver doesn’t have the same non-verbal cues as an in-person communication. Remember that they might not necessarily assume positive intentions, unless positive intentions are abundantly clear. Is there any way that your email could be misconstrued? Use your emotional barometer as a guide and rewrite your email if necessary.

If you’re receiving an email, likewise, pause and re-read the email. Notice any emotions or sensations that arise in your body, and simply let them pass without judgment. Realize that you also don’t have the benefit of nonverbal cues, and that you may be reading criticism or attack where there isn’t one. Re-read the email and see if the email could be read more objectively.

Take Three Breathes Before Replying. Before you hit “send” on your reply, take three deep, slow breaths, at least four seconds in and four seconds out. Stay as present as you can to your emotions and to your breath. During these three breaths, feel free to change your mind about sending, or to decide to edit your email before hitting send.

Mindful Emailing

It’s easy to be impulsive with email. A person who never lashes out at others in person can easily send off a criticizing email without being aware that it might hurt the receiver. Taking just a few moments to go through these steps can help avoid a lot of misunderstandings, as well as needless stressful emotions.

To your happiness and success,

-          Search Inside Yourself

Posted in Better Relationships | Tagged , , ,

How to Build Resilience With Meditation

Posted on by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

Resilience can be defined as the ability to overcome obstacles on the way to a goal, without being distracted or overcome by the things that happen along the way. It means having an inner calm to return to, even when things are stressful. It means being able to fully enjoy both success and failure, but not to be knocked off course by them. It’s the ability to put one foot in front of the other, no matter what happens.

How does one develop resilience? Some might say that it just comes from life experience. That it’s an innate trait. But in reality, like most other mental skills, resilience can actually be deliberately cultivated and developed.

Build resilience with meditation

Build resilience with meditation

Meditation is a great way to go about it. Before we dive into the specific meditation technique, let’s first take a closer look at success and failure. They’re two sides of the same coin – and your internal reaction to them forms the foundations of resilience.

Success and Failure: Two Sides of the Same Coin

How you react to success and failure is a big part of resilience. In fact, most of success comes from failure. The people who’re willing to fail more are those who ultimately succeed. Michael Jordan missed over 9,000 shots in his career. Edison tried over 10,000 filaments for the light bulb. The trick isn’t to not fail – instead, it’s to not let it affect you. To resiliently keep moving forward, until you eventually reach your goal.

Resilience, then, is the ability to remain centered during failure. What’s more, it also means learning to stay centered during success – as a person who is emotionally attached to success will stumble that much more when they fail.

In other words, resilience is the ability to continue taking action, without letting success or failure derail the process. You’re experiencing success and failure as an observer. You allow the experiences of success and failure to happen, and you allow them to flow through you. You observe them and fully experience them. But you don’t attach self-worth to it, and you don’t try to avoid or cling to any experience.

In a way, that sounds a lot like meditation. Doesn’t it?

A Meditation for Building Resilience

So, how do you use meditation to build resilience? You do so by meditating on the feelings of both success and failure. Then, practice observing yourself – without attachment and without aversion. You just let the experiences pass through your awareness.

Here’s a specific meditation you can use for practicing being centered during both times of success and times of failure. This meditation will take about 15 minutes.

Settling In. Start by taking one minute to just settle in. Focus your attention on your breath. Let yourself land into the current moment, and into your body.

Meditating on Failure. Bring to mind an experience where you felt like you failed. An experience where you failed to hit a goal. An experience where you might have let yourself or others down. Bring this experience to mind vividly. Now, observe your body. What sensations do you experience? Now gently practice observing these sensations as just that – sensations. Don’t attach meaning to them. Instead, just let the sensations be, and just observe. See if you can stay in this observer mode, without trying to avoid the sensations and without attaching blame.

Stay in this meditation for 4-5 minutes.

Meditating on Success. Take a deep breath. Clear your mind and body of the failure meditation. Now, change gears into meditating on success. Like before, bring to mind a specific experience where you felt a sense of success. A time when you achieved or exceeded a goal. Let yourself fully experience this experience. Now, observe the emotions and physical sensations this experience creates. Again, practice just observing – without attachment to the experience of success. Just observe.

Stay in this meditation for 4-5 minutes.

After you’ve done both meditations, sit for an additional 2-3 minutes. Clear your mind of these visualizations and just observe your mind and body. When you’re ready, open your eyes.

Takeaways From This Meditation

This meditation will help you develop more resilience to both success and failure. That means you’ll be able to steadily move towards your goals, without being put off by failure, or intoxicated by success.

How was this meditation for you? Share in the comments below!

To your happiness and success,

-          Search Inside Yourself

Posted in Meditation and Mindfulness | Tagged , ,

Developing Self-Confidence Through Meditation

Posted on by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

Self-confidence is one of those byproducts of meditation that few people talk about. Yet, this kind of self-confidence can make a big impact on a meditator’s life. Schools who’ve implemented meditation programs have noticed this in their kids. Adult meditators have found that meditation can help them build confidence both at work and at home – as well as a deep, pervading sense of self-confidence that’s independent of context.

Meditate & Develop Self-Confidence

Meditate & Develop Self-Confidence

How can meditation help develop self-confidence?

What is Self-Confidence?

To define self-confidence, let’s take a page from Norman Fischer:

Self- confidence isn’t egotism. . . . When you are truly self-confident, you are flexible
with regard to ego: you can pick up ego when necessary, but you can also put it down
when necessary in order to learn something completely new through listening. And if you
find that you can’t put ego down, at least you know that this is so. You can admit it to
yourself. If takes profound self- confidence to be humble enough to recognize your own l
imitations without self-blame.

In other words, self-confidence is not the lack of limitations. It’s an understanding and acceptance of those limitations, while having that understanding increase rather than lessen your self-worth. Your weaknesses become a strength. They become a part of you that you can wield, rather than a part of you that you avoid looking at or need to compensate for.

That’s self-confidence.

How Does Meditation Build Self-Confidence?

True self-confidence has to be built on a foundation of self-awareness. This kind of self-awareness lets you understand your strengths and your weaknesses on a deep and intimate level.

A core tenant in meditation is to just observe without judgment. You’re not avoiding anything, nor are you trying to make anything happen. You’re simply observing what is.

It turns out that this is one of the best ways for peering into the inner workings of the human mind. A lot of our unconscious mental and emotional habits stay unconscious because they’re difficult to see in our hectic day to day lives. It’s only when we sit down, be still and observe ourselves in this non-judgmental manner that we can start to unravel who we are.

Eventually, this will lead to a better understanding of your strengths and limitations. And through the practice of non-judgmental observation, you’ll also condition your mind to no longer judge those limitations. Instead, you’ll start to accept them, and eventually be able to use those limitations as strengths. True understand of your limitations and strengths then becomes an effortless and subtly powerful self-confidence.

That’s how meditation can help build self-confidence. Surprisingly, one of the best ways to build self-confidence is not to focus on confidence, but on self-awareness. Meditation helps facilitate that self-awareness.

Posted in Meditation and Mindfulness | Tagged , , , , ,

The Body Scan: Developing Emotional Awareness

Posted on by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

For many years, meditators have known that emotion and physical sensations are intimately linked. More recently, researchers, psychologists and neuroscientists from all over the world have actually proven and even mapped out this phenomenon. For example, in a study of 700 participants, Dr. Lauri Nummenmaa systematically mapped out the different places in the body where we experience emotions, as well as the physical sensations that correlate to each of those emotions.

Use your body to explore your emotions

Use your body to explore your emotions

To be more aware of your emotions – and thus to understand and be able to harness them better – it’s essential to develop mindfulness around your body. This will give you a more nuanced perception of the physical sensations that arise when you’re experiencing an emotion. You’ll also be able to spot emotions faster, and choose how you want to respond to those emotions consciously rather than reactively.

So, how do you develop mindfulness around your body and your emotions?

The Body Scan

The body scan is a meditation where you examine your body and its physical sensations in a systematic way, part by part. This meditation takes about 10 minutes. You can, of course, meditate for longer as well.

Getting Started

To get started, find a comfortable place to sit where you won’t be interrupted. Close your eyes. Do 1 to 2 minutes of meditation using whatever method you’re most used to. This will help calm your mind and get you ready to begin the body scan.

The Head

Put your attention on the very top of your head. Feel any sensation that might be there, no matter how minute. Slowly move your attention from the very tip of your head, down your scalp, until you’re just above your eyebrows. Do this very slowly and observe any and all physical sensations as you’re scanning. Spend about 1 minute here.

The Face

Next, bring your attention to the face. Start from the top down. What sensations do you feel around your eyes? Your nose? Your lips? Your chin? Spend about 1 minute feeling sensations on your face.

The Neck and Shoulders

Now move your attention to the back of your head. Start from the bottom of your scalp, move down your next, all the way to your shoulders. Look for any sensations, tensions, feelings of hotness or coldness, or just anything that moves into your awareness. Spend 1 minute on this area.

The Body

Scan the front of your body and the back of your body separately. Start from your shoulders and move all the way down your torso in about 1 minute. Then start again from your back and move all the way from your shoulders to your pelvis, again taking about 1 minute.

The Whole Body At Once

Finally, let your attention drape over your entire body. Notice any physical sensations or emotions that arise. Spend about 1 minute here.

If you’re extending the meditation, you can start from the bottom and go back up, or you can start over again from the top.

Break Down Emotions into Sensations

As you’re doing the body scan, try to focus on sensations, rather than emotions. For instance, instead of “I am angry,” you might notice the sensation of heat in your chest, tightness in your face and shallower breathing.

Focusing on the physical sensations of an emotion, rather than the idea of it, will allow you to spot that emotion faster in real life. The next time you notice those physical cues, you’ll notice it – faster than if you were trying to notice when you’re angry, for instance. Focusing on physical sensations also tends to give you more nuanced information, which can lead to deeper insights.

Go ahead and give the body scan meditation a try. Then, come back and let us know what you discovered!

Posted in Meditation and Mindfulness | Tagged , , ,

Set the Tone for Your Meditations with an Intention

Posted on by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

Beginning a meditation is a bit different than beginning any other daily habit. For instance, if you were to go for a jog, all you need to do is put on your jogging clothes and head out the door. Meditation on the other hand is a little different. Meditation is not a static process that you rinse and repeat. Instead, it’s something new to explore every day. The way you set your intention for your meditation, before you get started, can completely change your experience.

Set an intention before you meditate.

Set an intention before you meditate.

Different Experiences, Same Technique

Depending on your intention, you can have a completely different meditation experience, even if you’re using the same meditation technique. For instance, take the basic meditation of just focusing on your breath.

If your intention is to develop attention, then you’d gently block everything else out. Any time you find your mind wandering, you’d kindly bring yourself back to the breath. Over time, your brain learns to automatically bring your mind back to focus, even when you’re not meditating.

Now, let’s say your intention is to learn about how your mind works. Perhaps there’s one thing you want to focus on – for example, you’ve been feeling stressed, and want to see exactly how that manifests in your mind. So, you sit down. You use the same technique of focusing on your breath. Whenever you notice thoughts arise, you gently bring it back to your breath.

However, when you notice stressful thoughts arise, you might spend a little more time observing those thoughts. What patterns do you notice? How does the stress arise? How does a thought turn into the emotion of stress? How does that manifest in your body?

Then, whenever you’re ready, bring your attention back to the breath.

As you can see, your intention for the sit can completely change your experience – even within the same type of meditation.

Setting Your Intention

As you sit down to meditate, focus your mind on what your intention is for your sit. If you’re not sure where to put your attention, consider:

  • What are you curious about, within your mind?
  • How do you want to grow as a person?
  • What’s challenging in your life?
  • What would you like to explore?
  • What would you like to create?

Once you’ve chosen your intention, hold it briefly in your mind. Then, begin your meditation.

This process of reminding yourself why you’re meditating, then briefly focusing your mind, will help guide your meditation session. Setting an intention doesn’t need to take more than 10 seconds, but it can make a profound difference on your experience.

Posted in Meditation and Mindfulness | Tagged , ,

Harnessing Both Open and Focused Attention

Posted on by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

A big part of meditation is training your attention. Though we often talk about attention as if it’s one thing, there are actually many different types of attention. Two of the most important ones are open attention and focused attention.

Open attention is your ability to maintain your presence of mind while allowing different stimuli to pass through your awareness. Focused attention is your ability to keep your awareness on just one stimulus, while filtering everything else out. Both types of awareness are highly beneficial to cultivate.

Cultivate two different types of attention!

Cultivate two different types of attention!

Why Cultivate Open Awareness?

Cultivating open awareness means improving your ability to stay present and observe, while letting your actual experience change. For example, in one moment you might be aware of a thought, in the next moment a physical sensation, then an emotion, followed by an insight. Instead of “attaching” or being swept away by any of these experiences, you simply stay in being the observer.

When you cultivate open awareness, you open the doors to tremendous insight. Because you’re observing your experience through the lens of awareness, you’ll be able to spot patterns in your thinking or way of being that you wouldn’t normally see. In everyday life these might just play out in autopilot, but as these patterns flow through your awareness, you’ll be able to become aware of them.

Cultivating open awareness can also help you handle stress and chaos better in real life. Your mind becomes more accustomed to staying detached yet present, even when a lot is going on. With focused attention, you train your mind to be less distracted, to reduce mental chaos. With open awareness, you train your mind not to resist chaos, to instead just observe it. This can be very valuable in the real world.

Why Cultivate Focused Attention?

Focused attention involves selecting one focal point, then training your mind to come back to repeatedly come back that focal point. For example, let’s say the focal point is the breath. In a focused attention meditation, you would simply keep bringing your attention back to your breath.

This is the most commonly taught form of meditation, and for good reason. Cultivating focused attention helps you train your ability to direct your attention. You practice noticing when your mind loses focus, then gently bringing it back to center again. This is the type of meditation that strengthens the prefrontal cortex and boosts productivity.

It’s important to note that these mental benefits stay with you after the meditation session. At first it might seem like your mind snaps back to how it was before, immediately after you finish meditating. Yet, with a consistent practice, you’ll quickly find that the benefits of meditation will start staying with you longer and longer throughout the day.

How to Practice Open and Focused Attention

A good way to get a sense for these two different types of attention is to meditate while alternating between the two. Set your timer for three minutes. For the first three minutes, practice being present with whatever comes into your awareness. Observe, let the experience stay as long as it needs to, then let it pass. Don’t try to push any experience or thought away, and don’t latch on. Just observe.

Then, when the three minutes are up, change to a focused meditation. Pick one focal point (the breath is a good one,) and just focus on that one thing. If your attention wanders, gently bring it back to the focal point. Practice keeping your attention in one place.

Alternating between the two will give you a good feel for each of them. Which one is more beneficial for you? Share in the comments!

Posted in Meditation and Mindfulness | Tagged , , ,

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