You might wonder, as I did when starting, where to focus while meditating.
Most of the initial guidance I read didn’t appear clear in its instruction.
After all, it’s an esoteric practice.
Often I felt I was simply sitting for 30 minutes doing nothing, with no clue if I was doing it right.
If that resonates, read on, as we attempt to clear up any confusion.
What is the point of meditation?
There are multiple types of meditation, each with different teachings.
I haven’t trained in every approach, so in this article, we’ll cover what works based on my personal experience.
When we start meditating, we’re learning to observe our mind and its inner workings.
Often this is in response to what we perceive to be unhelpful thoughts, feelings and emotions.
If you suffer from anxiety, depression, overthinking or stress, for example, you might have heard that meditation can help.
That may be the case, but only as a byproduct of the practice.
When we place our attention on these mental sensations, we slowly realise that they don’t define our identity.
By focusing on these phenomena, their power over us often diminishes.
All-consuming negative thoughts, once observed impartially, begin to fade, revealing clear consciousness in their wake.
Introduction-aside, let’s look at why it’s prudent to employ an object of attention for meditation.
Reasons to employ an object of focus
There are a couple of good reasons to have a focus on during meditation.
Firstly, it’s easy to get sucked into the enticing machinations of our mind, especially when starting.
You see, thoughts are a constant companion, comprising an unremitting chatter in our heads.
Often they involve reliving the past or predicting an uncertain future.
To observe this babble for the first time is unnerving, especially in rare moments of clarity.
When practising meditation, we frequently get become absorbed by these self-created storylines.
Before long, we’re reliving a childhood argument or planning where to go for our next holiday.
These fantasies are immersive and habitually provoke positive and negative emotions, which have a high latency period, remaining with us for the rest of the day.
For this reason, it’s advisable to have a focus for our meditation.
In other words, an object we can return to when we become lost in thought and feeling.
The second reason to have a focus for meditation is to learn about the nature of our minds.
Commonly, we perceive ourselves to be a little controller in our heads, directing events.
We imagine ourselves as an observer, apart from that which is observed.
But is that really the case?
By experimenting with where to focus during meditation, we can dispel the illusion of separateness.
After all, everything is really just happening in the same place; the container we call consciousness.
In this way, we learn that there’s really no single source of attention, as it often feels.
In other words, there’s not one location for us, the subject, and another for our focus of meditation, the object.
It’s yet another mind-made illusion, with subject and object actually indistinguishable.
In some ways then, the object of attention isn’t important, other than to illuminate their identical nature and oneness with consciousness.
Where to focus while meditating
Here are just a few examples you can use for starters:
Beginner and advanced meditators alike often focus on the breath.
It’s a great anchor to allow us to become present, a reliable companion to return to each time we get lost in thought.
Repeatedly training our attention on inhalation and exhalation allows us to recognise when our minds begin to wander.
Eventually, we become more adroit and when experiencing overwhelm or stress during the day, we can recentre quickly.
There’s a constant background hum to sensation when we pay attention, in what often appears to be an electrical field of energy.
These feelings might present as tingling and numbness or even pain.
You might notice tension and temperature change or note the difference in feedback between various areas.
Using these sensations, you can experience this field of energy and work your way up and down the body, recognising variations.
Actively listening to sounds is a useful exercise, because it highlights what we often miss with other sensations.
Sounds appear spontaneously and come into being for varying amounts of time, before disappearing just as quickly.
In other words, like thoughts, we don’t control them.
They simply appear in consciousness and then evaporate.
Try to notice this, along with the nature of each acoustic, without mentally labelling the source of the sound as it arises.
A person or people
While the previous examples revolve around receiving whatever arises, Metta or loving-kindness meditation, encourages us to actively bring someone to mind and wish them well.
It could be accompanied by a short mantra such as:
- May you be happy
- May you be healthy
- May you be free from suffering
Often you can start with a loved one, for whom it’s easy to form such feelings, before progressing onto more challenging relationships.
It can even be extended to your family, community and city for extra feel-goods.
Sometimes it’s useful to leave your awareness open to whatever arises in the present.
Perhaps you notice your body as it feels in space, before becoming cognisant of background sounds and then experiencing the gentle rhythm of your breathing.
This type of meditation is a beneficial reminder that we don’t control consciousness or its contents, and are merely along for the ride.
Releasing the tight grip of your mind, in this way, is a liberating practice.
When focusing on one of the objects of meditation like the breath or body, it’s useful to intermittently (and briefly) turn attention back onto itself.
Non-duality practice can break the illusion of separateness between subject and object.
It might sound counterintuitive, like biting your own teeth, and can be equally as frustrating when you try it.
However, rather than mentally leaning towards the object of meditation, relax backwards and realise there’s no distance the observer and the observed; everything is simply occurring in the open space of awareness.
Hopefully, these techniques give you some idea of where to focus while meditating.
For a long time, I felt I was doing it wrong.
But as long as you’re sitting with yourself, you’re gleaning valuable insight into the nature of mind.
So go forth, put your proverbial meditation hat on and let me know how you get on.