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The spectrum of mindful attention

Dear Integral Meditators,

Not all mindful states require the same level or type of focus. If you understand how you can vary the intensity of your mindful state, you can be more effective in applying it to your daily life. The article below explores how…

In the spirit of mindful focus,


The spectrum of mindful attention 

The state of ‘being mindful’ exists upon a spectrum, from highly intense and focused to very relaxed almost to the point of sleep.
If we understand this, we can cultivate a level of mindfulness that is appropriate to the task at hand, and that serves our needs most effectively. For example:
High focus & intensity – Emailing at speed, playing a competitive sport, or making a business deal (particularly with unknown or unproven partners).
Low intensity – Relaxing and thinking as little as possible when commuting home, when trying to fall asleep, or when we have woken up at night and wish to fall asleep again
Medium intensity (balanced between focus and relaxation) – going for an evening walk or hiking, having dinner with a date, relaxing and watching a movie or documentary.

A useful question you can ask yourself before doing something is: ‘What is the level of mindful focus that is most appropriate for the task or activity I have ahead of me?’ Your answer then enables you to calibrate your level of focus appropriately.

Other useful questions to explore might be:
What are the times when I have experienced intense focus in the past? What did it feel like? 
What are the times when I have felt completely relaxed in the past? Can I bring a part of that relaxation in to my body in this moment?

Experimenting with the spectrum of mindful focus in your own meditation practice. 
The below exercise is based around a twelve minute timeline, but you can adjust it to a length that suits you.

  • Set up a simple mindful flow pattern; 3-5 breaths focusing on the breathing, then relax your body for a few moments, then repeat the pattern alternating between focusing on the breathing and relaxing the body in an ongoing cycle.
  • For the first three minutes of the meditation, really emphasize building clear sharp focus on the breathing and the body, as clear and sharp as possible. Then, for the next three minutes, keeping to the same pattern of 3-5 breaths/relaxing the body, make the process as relaxed as possible, moving toward (but not entering into) a sleep state.
  • For the second half of the meditation, spend the first three minutes moving back towards intense, clear focus, and then for the final three minutes emphasizing relaxation.

The idea here is to develop the skill of moving consciously back and forth along the spectrum of attention, from single pointed focus to less focused relaxation and back again. This in turn will enable you to bring an appropriate, balanced attention your different daily activities according to what is needed.

© Toby Ouvry 2017, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

Upcoming Courses at Integral Meditation Asia

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