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I hope you are in good health and spirit, enjoying the longer days and the blooming nature, taking things as they come with lightness and ease, using yoga as support for difficult times and a companion for the good ones.
I want to share something that has been on my mind for a while which is a hot topic amongst many of us these days. There are vast amounts of benefits in living as a human being in 2023, we have lots of options and freedom and life on average has never been so easy and safe. Of course it doesn't mean that there isn't still real suffering in the world and that there isn't much work that needs to be done to reduce inequality and injustice.
From my own experience as well as what I see all around me, one of the biggest challenges that even privileged people living in developed rich countries are facing these days is the breakdown in our ability to pay attention to things. It feels like keeping ourselves from being distracted is the hardest it has ever been. We are facing on a daily basis the most effective and powerful tools ever created to hijack our attention. It used to be newspapers, television, gossip, chit chat and boredom but these days our digital devices seem to drug us with continuous stimulations that trigger dopamine hits in the brain and drag us into what feels like a numb foggy zone. they are like strong magnets that constantly demand our attention.
Being detached from the present moment has been deeply ingrained in the human condition for millennia and yoga texts have been discussing this problem for many centuries. According to yoga philosophy, our main source of internal distraction are mental dialogues and monologues in the form of trains of thought and emotion which we deeply identify with. On the surface they seem to be connected to external events but to anyone who takes the time to observe this phenomena closely it is obvious that all of our distraction comes from within. We tend to be compulsively occupied with past and future matters which is a strong habitual pattern that prevents us from being fully immersed in the present moment, unless we have a task at hand for which our mind is prepared to engage fully. Modern technology and innovation have benefited us in many ways but it also created a reality in which focusing our attention on most things for longer than a few seconds is a skill that is becoming more and more rare.
Of course for some people this problem has to do more with the chemistry of the brain or a specific condition. This probably requires special care, seeking help of a professional who is an expert in this field.
Why is it so important that we develop a capable mental focus?
I am no expert in the field of psychology or neuroscience and so I won't get into all the reasons that the deteriorating ability to focus is threatening our wellbeing as a species and individuals. There are many sources that one can find to get informed on this vast topic if there is curiosity.
When it comes to the yoga perspective it is quite simple - life can only take place in the present moment!
When we are not engaged with life at the intersection point which is the everchanging present moment, we exist in a dreamlike state, sleepwalking through life. Both future and past only happen in our imagination and we can easily find ourselves in a state of disconnection from the fullness of living. As we are being lost in this state we are occasionally interrupted by powerful stimulations. These big stimulations that we seem to crave strongly are rare and so while we wait for them with anticipation we tend to settle for small stimulations and get trapped in in a loop of continuously looking forward for the next one.
Why are we craving these impermeant stimulations so much?
Because in these moments we get a sneak peak into what it feels like to be present and it gives us a relief from the unpleasant distracted state of craving and anticipating the next hit.
The wonderful news is that even the smallest step in the direction of bringing attention to the present moment makes a huge difference. I can say from my own personal experience that my life changed dramatically just by dedicating a small chunk of time everyday to being fully immersed in the present moment, even if at other times I find myself scrolling on my phone, watching a silly video on youtube or gazing at something meaningless on netflix.
Being moderate and pragmatic should be a priority since the alternative is usually worse. It can be a good idea to embrace the current reality of things and the fact that the vast majority of us simply cannot afford to dedicate our entire day to developing our attention skills, therefore we should definitely cut ourselves some slack and accept the fact that we will be distracted most of the time. If we are going to get lost in our devices and screens we may as well make the most out of it and get some pleasure while we're at it! At the same time we can also set a realistic goal and gradually regain ownership of our most valuable resource, attention.
The first stage is probably simply being aware of the forces that hack our attention and how we respond to their attempts. Just willing to recognize this as a potential threat can make a big difference in how we engage with our digital devices and platforms. At the same time it is important not to turn this into a good vs. evil battle, adding conflicts into our life is probably not very helpful. Mindfulness can act as a wonderful protective shield which is much more potent than resentment or rage, and definitely more useful than indifference.
Some people may have a wrong idea about what it's like to be mindful and think that it means we should actively focus our attention or stop the thought process with effort. Being mindful is actually a calm effortless state in which there is an harmonious alignment between awareness and the experience of the present moment, whatever it is. Any experience can be engaged with this kind of awareness, even scrolling on your phone or watching a video.
Sit quietly for a few minutes, anywhere, with no agenda, no task, nothing to achieve, nowhere to be, nothing to do.
You can sit in any position, on a cushion or blanket, on a chair or a bed, eyes can be open or closed.
You may feel some sensation in your body, you may notice a sound or visual image, you may become aware of your breath. Just notice things as they are.
At some point you may realize that you are thinking about something.
Wonderful! Just notice that!
Observe what is the experience of thinking feels like.
Just sit with ease and let anything that comes come, let things be as they are. Don't make any effort to create a specific experience, instead just let things appear and disappear on their own.
Be the witness of every moment that arrives without holding on to it, letting the next moment arise.
If you keep on trying this out on a daily or semi-daily basis you will soon discover that this state of awareness starts to feel more natural and easy, it may even become pleasant, something to look forward to. With some time and infinite patience you will start having access to this state of awareness at will and it will be available to you whenever you need it.
Get in touch if you're in need of some more info or have any questions!
Looking forward to sharing space, breath and being present with you in April.
With love and gratitude
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