June 29, 2021
I have written a few times about being in the present moment, being in the now. A reader reached out to me asking for some guidance on how one can consciously be in the moment. This is a challenge all of us deal with. When our life is full of distractions, how do I keep myself from getting overwhelmed?
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for this. Having present moment awareness takes effort. It is an act of concentration.
Your ability to be present stems from you being able to concentrate, with your awareness, on whatever you are doing at the moment. You cannot be in the NOW if you can’t concentrate.
Concentration is your ability to keep your awareness on one thing for an extended period of time. If you keep your awareness and attention on a particular task, it means you are concentrating on that task. If your awareness or attention drifts from that task to something else, then it means you are distracted. Bringing back your awareness to the task you are doing requires some focus and will.
Practise Concentration Instead Of Distraction
Imagine someone is speaking with you, and you concentrate your awareness on that person by giving him your undivided attention. Now, you suddenly remember that you forgot to send out an important mail to your boss. And, your awareness shifts from the person in front to the thought of the email you have to send. You are looking at the person, but your mind is elsewhere. This is what distraction is. Concentration is your ability to ignore the thought and bring back your attention to the person in front of you.
My view is this- Distraction and Concentration are the two opposite and distinct states of our awareness.
If I can’t hold our awareness on anything for an extended period and my awareness keeps flitting between the task I do and the messages or notifications I get, then all I am doing is practicing distraction. If I practice toggling my awareness amongst different activities all day long, I become a master at getting distracted.
Conversely, every time my awareness drifts, when I consciously bring it back to the task I am doing, I am practicing the skill of concentration. I keep repeating the ritual of bringing back my awareness hundreds of times to be on one task, one activity for an extended period; I am practicing concentration. The more I do this, the better I become at concentration.
Being in the present moment, being mindful is like the end product. Concentration is the raw material required. You can’t really become mindful if you don’t know how to concentrate.
There is an old Zen on the power of concentration that goes like this- “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”