Attention Anchoring Practice
Context for Audio or Self Guided Practice
One of the biggest challenges we come across when we start to meditate or put our attention on anything for a period of time for that matter is staying present on the task at hand and not getting caught up in a variety of distractions that range from thoughts about the future, worrying, ruminating about the past, day dreaming, or lost in the running commentary that your mind creates about whatever you’re experiencing. Being able to be aware, focused, present, and hold our concentration at will on an object form the foundation of flourishing in all dimensions of our life experience ranging from personal relationships to professional careers.
In order to increase our ability to be present and concentrated we need to practice finding an anchor for our wandering attention and train ourselves during the course of a meditation practice to remember to return to it over and over again in with a patient and non-judgemental attitude.
The most commonly used anchor is the breath, as the breath is always there whether you are conscious of it or not and the sensation of the breath is relatively easy to access. To use the breath as your anchor, breathe naturally, just become aware of the experience of breathing and allow your attention to go to the place that the sensation of breathing is the strongest. Some people find this to be in their nostrils feeling the air entering and leaving the body. Others like to focus on the rise and fall of their belly or their chest. While others like to anchor their attention on other bodily sensations associated with the rise and fall of the in and out breath. There is no right or wrong place, only what feels most natural for you.
Some people find that they feel more grounded by using their body as their anchor, particularly at the points of contact between their body and the floor like your feet or legs or the points of contact between their body and their mat, chair, bench or cushion such as the sensation of the back of the legs and spine. Others find that the sensation of their heart beating works best. If you are outdoors, nature can also provide anchors that connect your body with external elements, such as the sun shining on your skin or the cool breeze touching your skin.
Additionally, the sounds in your environment can also be used as anchors. When indoors, you may find that the steady sound of a clock ticking or the hum of the air conditioning or heater work for you and if you are outdoors in a natural environment you may like to focus on listening to the sounds of birds, insects, the wind, or a body of water like a stream or the ocean. When using a sound, it is best to find something that is reasonably constant, so that it will be there when you return to it.
You may find that on different days or in different circumstances you prefer one anchor over another, or you may find that once you’ve chosen your anchor that it just works for you and it becomes a staple of your practice. It doesn’t really matter which anchor you choose, as long as it serves as a reminder to return to the present. We all wander off in thought during meditation and the anchor is there to bring us back to the present moment, over and over again. When your mind wanders off, it doesn’t matter for how long, once you notice this, it’s as if you’ve woken up in the present, and when this happens, just return to your anchor and to the experience of meditation.
Guided Practice for Audio
Time: 10 mins
Begin by finding a stable and comfortable position for your body. If you are seated in a chair sit upright with your back straight but not stiff and your feet planted on the ground underneath you. If you are seated on a cushion, gently cross your ankles or place one foot in front of the other and allow your knees to rest gently as you sit towards the end of your cushion with your spine straight but not still. No matter what position you are in allow your shoulders to be at ease, relax the muscles in your face, and rest your hands intentionally either on your thighs or together in the center of your lap.
Decide now on what you would like to choose as your anchor: your breath, body, or sounds. Make an intention now in your mind that for the next 10 mins you will set your attention on your chosen anchor. Remember that your baseline state of mind is wandering so do not be surprised when those strong mind wandering forces take you away from your anchor. Your job in this exercise is to steadily keep your attention on your anchor but when it does inevitably get pulled away from your chosen anchor bring it back avoiding getting caught in additional thinking of judging yourself or commenting on the exercise. Just notice when you are distracted and bring your mind back, even if this continuously happens moment after moment.
Begin now by closing your eyes and focusing on your anchor and keeping your posture steady and content for the next 10 mins. (Bell)
(Reminder half way through) Remember to keep returning to your anchor over and over again no matter how many times your mind gets pulled away, patiently and non judgmentally.
Now when you are ready slowly open your eyes and begin to reawaken your body to subtle movement, stretching gently or massaging your feet if you are seated on a cushion.