Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Focusing Mind and Body

(Note - posting of this blog was temporarily halted by the ultimate early-morning distraction: an AU South Residence Hall Complex fire alarm evacuation.

Jet lag has its points. When I awake at 2:30 in the morning (after thanking my body for working more or less reliably) I have to do something. Here is a personal variant on a Buddhist meditation exercise which, like most such exercises, is intended to clear the mind of extraneous thoughts. It is great for a sleepless hour, as alternative to a film on long international flights, during the passage of time between when your doctor’s nurse told you to show up for an appointment an when she (the doctor) actually sees you – for almost anytime.

The exercise is not complicated. There are only three elements.

  1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position. If you need to move, stop the exercise and do so, being conscious of that experience very briefly and then letting it go. Continue with the other parts of the exercise.
  2. Beginning at 100, count slowly and silently backwards to zero. As you count, visualize each number.
  3. After each visualization, take two slow breaths – in and out; then consciously pause; then visualize the next number.

If you are like me, you will be amazed at how difficult it is to actually complete the process, when I first started the practice, I almost never, succeeded. You will become aware of how permeable our minds are to distractions, even in a meditative environment and despite our best efforts. This may be why we derive such satisfactions for activities that do focus our minds, engaging both mind a body totally; that exclude the constant “chatter.” Among such activities are demanding athletic competitions when one is “in the zone”, an intense research/creative activity like computer modeling, an intense conversation with a loved one, a sexual encounter that totally engages both mind and body, listening to a great orchestra play a later Beethoven symphony or a superb organist play the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Our world is far more filled with distracting elements than in simpler times. I wonder if the emergence of ever more demanding “ultra” sports and engulfing entertainments (rap music; ‘action’ films) is an expression of our yearning for those special moments of total focus and our inability to reach within ourselves to attain them.


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