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Q&A with Tamara :: deepening concentration when faced with a wandering mind

Q&A with Tamara :: deepening concentration when faced with a wandering mind

I have been doing the Calm app for about 45 days. I seem to still be having trouble with my mind wandering. I keep trying to refocus with the breath. Any suggestions for staying focused? Thank you.
— Devora

Thanks for your question Devora. It’s such an important one. 

Beginner meditators are often under the impression that their mind shouldn’t wander. I’ve been meditating for 25 years and my mind still wanders. This is simply the nature of the mind. ;)

While we don’t want to spend our entire practice just sitting still thinking, we have to expect that as we meditate, thoughts will arise and our mind will follow. 

What this practice is about, is noticing what’s happening in our experience from moment to moment.

So when the mind begins to wander, simply notice it wandering! The moment you observe that you’ve been pulled away from your object of attention, you’re already back. This is the work of a meditator – to see all that arises – our thoughts and emotions and sensations without getting caught up in them. And if we do, (or rather when, ‘cause we will!) we recognize what’s happening and catch ourselves.

Simply come back to the breath or the body or whatever your anchor is each time you notice the mind wandering. If you have to bring it back a hundred times, bring it back a hundred times.

Progress is when you are able to stay equanimous – meaning that you don’t become judgmental or agitated when the mind wanders. Our objective here is to remain calm and non-reactive. Do your best to notice thoughts without getting swept away by them or by adding more thoughts. 

That’s my first suggestion to help you return to the breath more quickly. The more you get pulled into a story, the more difficult it is to pull away. 

Watch the boats floating by; just don't climb into any of them.

Here are a few additions suggestions for deepening concentration when the mind is busy: 

  • Take three or four deep, conscious breaths. You can count the breaths as you take them or silently say to yourself “Breathing in” and “Breathing out.” This helps concentrate attention. 
  • Focus on the body for a few moments. Bring your awareness to the hands or feet, feel them heavy, and notice any sensations. Direct the breath into those areas for 3-4 breaths. Directing our attention into the body can be helpful when attempting to divert our attention from thought. 
  • Try meditating for longer periods of time. When the mind is busy, it can sometimes take a good 20 minutes or even longer for it to still. Sometimes practicing for longer will allow you to attain a more still mind.
  • Check your posture. Try straightening your back and see if an alert posture helps still the mind.
  • Relax. Sometimes we become tense if we’re trying too hard. Take a few deep breaths with an audible sigh, fully relaxing the body before coming back to your object of attention. 

Keep in mind that concentration takes time to develop - it’s just like strengthening a muscle. Have patience and compassion for yourself while applying the right effort towards your practice. 

All the best,
Tamara 

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