INSIGHT TIMER PLAYLIST: Attentional Focus
ANNOTATED GUIDE by CSC Staff
Some of the most prevalent forms of contemplative practice are designed to help the practitioner relax by calming the mind and body and/or develop concentration, the ability to focus attention for sustained periods. Both objectives are usually pursued by means of the same contemplative technologies, which are considered foundational. To summarize the method, one focuses attention on a deliberately selected object, often the breath, notices distraction when attention has wandered to some other object, and then refocuses attention on the original object. That’s it. As a result, many of the practices in this playlist on Attentional Focus share similar techniques as those in our playlist for Relaxation but the instructions emphasize their designated purpose, thereby helping the listener proceed more directly towards a specific objective.
*Note that for ideal functionality, it is best to link to these resources via the Insight Timer app on your mobile device rather than through the Insight Timer website.
Focused Attention (2:34)
Laurie J. Cameron
This no bones about it, pithy practice in just two and half minutes surveys the foundation for developing focused attention: find an anchor (such as the breath), bring attention to it, and bring attention back whenever distraction is noticed. This can be used as a stand-alone atomic exercise, a repeat practice, or the kickstarter for longer sessions. While the focal object or anchor may change, most attentional practices make use of this exact progression to develop concentration, strengthening one’s ability to stay with the anchor more deeply, more consistently, and for longer periods of time. This teacher also offers a 50 Days to a Mindful Life course.
While many people associate mindfulness with a formal practice of stillness distinct from everything else one does, the goal is for that sense of presence and focus to pervade all of one’s activities. Just like doing reps for athletic strength training, sitting in focused concentration is formal exercise for the mindfulness we strive to apply throughout our lives. Drawing upon contemporary research in psychology and neuroscience both practically and accessibly, this instructor guides listeners in exploring the significance of their work, whether as students or professionals, on their overall lives. This recording, however, only serves as a preface to an excellent series of short talks and guided contemplations called Deepen Your Focus and Flow at Work, which deeply explores how to apply mindful awareness in one’s work and find meaning and purpose in one of the most defining aspects of life.
Open Awareness Meditation (16:16)
For those who have had enough of the instruction to focus on the breath and nothing but the breath, this exercise offers some reprieve. The breath remains a settling, constantly available resource, but the full context of experience becomes the focus, with each unique moment arising one after the next, watching whatever thoughts or sensations simply arise and fade away. To help avoid aimlessly drifting into distraction, the recommendation here is to label each aspect that draws attention (thinking as thinking, sound as sound, and so on) before returning to a fully open, inclusive sense of experience, which is why this form of practice is often referred to as open awareness or open monitoring.