Thursday, October 30, 2008

Turning Your Attention Inward

As the old saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In the case of meditation, this simple but essential step involves turning your mind away from its usual preoccupation with external events — or, just as often, with the story it tells you about external events — and toward your inner sensate experience.

If you’re like most people, you’re so caught up with what’s happening around you — the look in other people’s eyes, the voices of family and co-workers, the latest news on the radio, the messages appearing on your computer screen — that you forget to pay attention to what’s happening in your own mind, body, and heart. In fact, popular culture has been designed to seduce you into searching outside yourself for happiness and satisfaction. In such a confusing and compelling world, even the most rudimentary gesture of selfawareness can seem like a challenge of monumental proportions. Just take a few minutes right now to turn your mind around and pay attention to what you’re sensing and feeling. Notice how much resistance you have to shifting your awareness from your external focus to your simple sensate experience.

Notice how busily your mind flits from thought to thought and image to image, weaving a story with you as the central character. Because these habitual patterns are so deeply rooted, doing something as seemingly innocuous as returning your attention again and again to a basic internal focus like your breath can take tremendous courage and patience. You may be afraid of what you’ll discover if you venture into essentially unknown terrain — or afraid of what you’ll miss if you turn inward even for a few moments. But this shift from outer to inner is precisely the simple but radical gesture that meditation requires.

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