In recent years, I’ve started going to a Tibetan Buddhist temple for their Saturday teachings. I noticed that the monks don’t always refer to the practice of meditation as meditation, they often call it “mind training.” Sometimes I like this term better. It feels more important somehow. Like Jedi training.
What are we training for? Life. I tell my students this all the time, we don’t practice meditation to get good at meditation. We practice meditation to get good at life.
Let’s imagine for a moment. Imagine you sit down to write, you focus for a few minutes, and then you get distracted. What’s happened? You have unintentionally misplaced your attention. You are still paying attention to something, it’s just not the thing you intended.
You come back. You refocus. You place your attention back on it’s intended target. You are able to maintain focus for 20 minutes, then you find yourself thinking about a sandwich.
Your attention is now on lunch. Time for a break.
Most advice about productivity and procrastination is really trying to answer the question, where are you placing your attention, and how can we keep it where we intend it? When you place your attention without intention, that’s when the trouble starts!
Meditation is this: setting an intention to place your attention on an object.
There is always an object of attention. Right now, that object may be this writing. Or, you may be completely distracted and your attention is out the window at the dog that won’t stop barking. But there is always an object. In meditation, we try to remain focused on a single object. We are in training.
To focus, you must have intention.
The attention follows the intention.
Patience arises, and you find yourself able to remain.
Or, impatience arises and the attention follows that.
But by practicing meditation consistently, you are developing a laser-like focus. You are literally re-wiring your brain to be better at staying the course, at remaining with what was intended.
The original term for what we now call “mindfulness” was the Pali word Sati. A better, and possibly more accurate translation of Sati is remembering.
As we sit in meditation, at some point, we suddenly notice the mind has lost its focus on the object. We remember our original intention and we come back. This is the process: Remembering your intention, coming back. Returning to the present.
With each practice, we get a little better and a little better. The first time you meditate for 10 minutes you might only be with your intention for 30 seconds. The next time, maybe a minute. Each time you practice, the amount of time you spend focused on the object of attention lengthens.
Although it’s unlikely that you will ever reach a point where you are always present, the amount of time that you spend unintentionally not present will decrease.
And then something magical happens. The amount of time that you spend unintentionally not present in your life will also increase.