Have you ever been completely mentally “away?” Not just daydreaming, but mentally fully immersed in a completely different situation? This happens to me a lot. My understanding is that this is why what my brain does is called Attention Deficit Disorder . It’s not that I can’t maintain focus, it’s that I have a disorder that makes it difficult for me to switch between a deep focus when intermittent focus is needed or switch out of intermittent mode when I need to be focusing deeply on something, like you know, my next blog post.
Something that has helped me understand this brain mechanism better is meditation. Apparently there are two basic kinds of meditation – I’m going to call them the orange and nitrogen because I have no idea what they’re really called.
In this form of meditation you take a single item, like an orange or a raisin or an action (your breath) and you focus everything on that. You consider the folds and the valleys and the color and the stem and every single thing related to that orange. You train your mind to exclude all other stimuli so that you can deeply concentrate on the scent and the weight and the texture of that orange. Just like a muddy stream settling after a storm, gradually all the sediment in your mind settles and you’re completely clear. It’s amazingly powerful and I’ve finished this kind of a meditation feeling as though I’ve awaken from the deepest most refreshing sleep.
In this form of meditation you focus on everything in and around you. It helps me to think of nitrogen – it’s everywhere in our environment, and as a gas it gets into our bloodstream and our lungs and fills every space that we move in. When meditating like this you keep yourself grounded in the here and now, becoming deeply aware of all of your thoughts and your feelings and all the sights and sounds around you. I have deep trouble doing this. For whatever reason I start out focusing on the mundane activities of life around me and the next thing I know my mind is a million miles away. I pull it back and bring my focus back to the spaces that nitrogen has crept into and I’m gone again, thinking about how I need to add fertilizer to my plants. My personal theory is that I’m already uncommonly aware of the things around me, and as such this kind of meditation doesn’t help my brain settle.
So what’s my point?
Anchors help me. As I write this I have a printed sheet of paper across the room with my top three priorities on it. As my mind wanders off my gaze lights on my priority list and it narrows my focus back onto my priorities. At home I’ve taken a slightly different tack: rather than have a priority list tacked to the wall, I remove the distractions. The TV set is tucked into a back room and I keep the computers closed up unless I specifically need them for a task. My phone ringer and calendar reminders are on, but text message notifications are off. I know where my mind goes, and I’m learning how to direct it where I want it to go.