Building up the Foundations of Mindfulness: Sharp Focus and Open Awareness
In the previous article (Mindless in the workplace: have you P.A.I.D. the price?) we focussed on the notion that we (humans, people…workers) develop automaticity towards indulging in increasing levels of distracting thoughts, conversations, images, memories and many more expressions of the mind’s ‘doing-for-its-own-sake’ clutter.
We also established that, generally speaking, the trend in the workplace has been one of increasingly spending time trying to catch-up on infinitely growing to-do lists, feelings of decreased productivity (over time), leading to needing to spend more time working (or working faster than usual as a compensatory strategy).
We concluded by proposing that becoming a ‘human doing’ (…as opposed to ‘human being’) seems the only possible solution but typically means we would have been working up towards and ‘P.A.I.D.’ a high price: Pressure becoming the norm, being Always on, experiencing Information overload and eventually becoming increasingly Distracted and unable to focus (thus achieving virtually the opposite of what we set out to do).
However, not all is lost as in this article, following on from Houggard and colleagues’ work (2016pp. 12- 15) we begin by setting the scene on building up the Foundation for being more mindful in the workplace and will guide you to starting with a simple mindfulness practice.
Foundational techniques and implementation in everyday life
Mindfulness offers techniques that can allow us to become, through practice, better equipped to maintain sharp focus, as well as maintaining open awareness.
Sharp focus may be described as sustaining attention with little or no distraction to one object, task or job with good depth of focus yet without requiring excessive effort)
Open awareness is the ability to connect, absorb and engage what is going on in broader sense in surroundings, the mind, and emotions at a distance or away from what we are focussing on, so we don’t get sucked in by one component of our experience and, therefore, are able to make more informed choices.
Both of these can be achieved through a mixture of
- Foundational Training Practices (some people like to call these eye-closed practices or meditations), and
- Everyday techniques, which are practical behaviours or skills (some people like to call these habit ‘releasers’ or habit ‘breakers’).
Sharpening Focus: Staying tuned in to your breath.
Foundational Training Practices and Everyday Technique are usually taught, demonstrated and rehearsed during 8 weekly preparatory courses (approximately 16 hours training in total) and we will be making reference to these in the next articles as well – but we only have a few hundred words here so there is nothing stopping you to try some of these as you read through this article. To help you with this, I would like to start by inviting you to build and sharpen your focus by practising tuning into your breadth (sounds simple as one could argue you must be really good at breathing to be here reading this article…!) and returning to it when you wonder away from it. Don’t worry about remembering it all. I will give you a list of more detailed instructions below and then three key points to remember how to do it so you don’t need to look at it.
Here it goes:
- Gather your awareness (please do this as you read this paragraph) and anchor it around the sensation of your breadth anywhere in your body, perhaps tuning into the change of temperature (you may notice the air is cooler as you breathe in and warmer as you breathe out….you may feel this at the tip of the nose of the lips, depending on where you are breathing from)…and/or you may notice your breath makes a changing sound (louder as you breathe in….quieter as you breathe out…and so on as you carry on)….and you may even that transition from one sensation to the sound… …and perhaps noticing how the breath leads your body to changing in shape…growing and shrinking, you may notice the change of sensation of the clothes against the body (tighter…looser…tighter…and so on….).
- Once you get a feel for one or more sensations as for above, STAY WITH THEM: feel them move and change.
- You may notice your mind wonders onto other things or thoughts come in but that is more usual when you have your eyes closed and you cannot be distracted from your internal world. Therefore, in this approach to a foundational training practice, we would usually ask you to close your eyes (after you have also read the following bullet points feel free to do so and try it out!)
- As you close your eyes you will notice your mind will wonder into thoughts, images, conversations, remembering etc. These are all (often unnecessary) ‘output’ from your mind (it is estimated we may have as many as 60000 thoughts per day so why engage in all of them?!) and it is an insight in how busy, overloaded and ‘on-the-go’ you are right now. Each time you notice drifting into any of the above, bring your attention back to any of the sensations above.
- Now, see if you can allow yourself a minute or so (you can do more if you wish) and as for above:
- Close your eyes
- Feel and stay with the breath
- Come back to the breath each time you notice a thought
- Repeat several billion times!
Scientific evidence on certain types of stress, suggests that 10 minutes of practice, a couple of times a day, or a mixture of the practices and techniques aforementioned, it can really make a difference. If you find it a struggle to spend a minute or two at the time, it may be helpful to consider a full mindfulness course.
Next time, I will summaries a helpful model of mental effectiveness, before offering a scripted example of open awareness.