Tag Archives: Mindfulness

ADHD, MDHD*: Attention, Mindfulness and the Zeitgeist of Disorder

IMG00054-20100925-1729Four articles in three sections of today’s The New York Times on how we do (and don’t) focus our minds – and how we can (and might) do so for the better.  They’re onto something.

In his review of Daniel Goleman’s new book, “Focus:  The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” Nicholas Carr describes how Stephen Dedalus “monitors his thoughts without reining them in” as an example of open awareness, one of many types of awareness Goleman details (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/books/review/focus-by-daniel-goleman.html?smid=pl-share).  In “Jumper Cables for the Mind,” Dan Hurley reports on tDCS at Harvard’s Laboratory of Neuromodulation, and research that shows low voltage electrical brain stimulation seems to enhance any number of cognitive functions(http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/magazine/jumper-cables-for-the-mind.html?smid=pl-share). David Hochman, in “Mindfulness at Every Turn,” details the increasing reach of mindfulness: the Marine Corps, Silicon Valley, The Huffington Post (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/fashion/mindfulness-and-meditation-are-capturing-attention.html?smid=pl-share).  And Clive Thompson’s “Brain Game,” the subject of Walter Isaacson’s review, proposes an increasing reliance on “intelligence amplification,” human cognition harnessed to the power of computers (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/books/review/smarter-than-you-think-by-clive-thompson.html?smid=pl-share). 

As a psychologist and psychotherapist who has been involved in mindfulness education since the late ’60’s (when it was called meditation), and integrative medicine before it had a name, this explosion of interest in expanding awareness and increasing attention – improving the powers of the mind – thrills me.  I’m all for anything that increases compassionate awareness and improves attention:  for my clients, my patients, our children, and certainly myself.

The idea of “more, better” is as American as it gets, and I’m all for more and better when it comes to the mind.  But I’ve got some reservations about the how of all this.  The selling of mindfulness seems somehow antithetical to the very acceptance mindfulness cultivation strives for.  And it may seem a strange thing for a psychologist whose focus is on problem solving to say, but life is not simply a problem to be solved.

Hegel supposed that all art is a reflection of the time in which it is created; the same is no doubt true of the psychological arts.  Ours is a time when excellence is valued.  Not necessarily the pursuit of excellence, however.  We like our accomplishments big and easy and fast.  And the improvement of mental functioning, while often shockingly quick when we begin proper training, is indeed a lifelong practice.  In it for the long haul, not simply for today’s trend.

Training takes practice.  So why bother?

When we correlate attention solely with achievement, we limit what the mind can do even as we improve our chances for success.  Just as an efficient laser requires vast numbers of atoms in an excited state, our human laser-like focus, so crucial for excellence in completing many tasks, requires a ramping up of very specific kinds of attention.  As we learn more about the brain’s neuroplasticity – and apply ever more sophisticated technology – exciting real life applications will allow us to improve attention.  An eye surgeon focuses his attention as well as his laser beam, and a good thing that is.  But while a  laser can attain and sustain this heightened excitation and focus, we, on the other hand, experience stress in response to the demand for constant laser-like focus.  We can focus our attention sharply and well – but only for so long.

We also require rest.

But what is the nature of the rest we require?  Not the sort of lack of attention we often choose: multi-tasking, zoning out, mindlessly watching tv, texting while talking and walking.  Divided attention does not refresh, it simply provides a break from the intensity of single focus attention.

What is the awareness that refreshes?

Open awareness, mindfulness, the meditative state.  The form really doesn’t matter.  Pick and choose,  try a form that suits, or try one and switch to another.  What matters is the ongoing practice of focusing awareness, even while accepting all the gyrations of mind that accompany the attempt to do so.  We can quiet the “monkey mind” with practice, but not by ignoring or drugging away our thoughts and feelings.

Focused attention AND open awareness.  We need both for success in accomplishing our goals, and success in living a fulfilled life.  Both.  And both can be improved – greatly – through practice.   It may seem an oxymoron, but research has shown what generations (and other cultures) know: the work of improving attention and awareness mean less stress, increased productivity, and happier lives.

* Mindfulness Disorder, with and without hyperactivity

Copyright © 2013  Marlin S. Potash, Ed.D.  All rights reserved.  

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Soothe the Stress: A Conscious Breathing Meditation

I was recently asked to put together a conscious breathing meditation for someone who finds reading an easier way to focus than listening to a pre-recorded meditation – and for whom simply returning to a focal point may well be simple, but is not at all easy.  The following meditation is meant to be read, either silently or, if one wanted to, recorded in one’s own voice.  Thought I’d share it here for anyone else who might find it helpful.  Comments – always – appreciated.

Make certain you won’t be disturbed.  Turn off the tv and quiet all electronic devices.  Close the door and quietly yet clearly tell yourself you have decided you will now do a conscious breathing meditation.  Determine if you will give yourself 3-5 minutes, or if you might set aside 15-20 minutes.  Either way, consciously decide you will now do a breathing meditation, and gently tell yourself you will now begin.

Sit comfortably, by which I mean sit with your feet uncrossed and on the floor, and your hands uncrossed in your lap or resting on the arms of the chair.  Let the chair support your weight;  feel the floor under your feet. Or lie down comfortably – supported and uncrossed – on the floor.  If your body wants to shift position as your meditation progresses, that’s fine.  Just start out uncrossed and supported by chair or floor.

Close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breath.  Nothing to do, nothing to worry about, simply notice your breath coming into your body, and moving out of your body.  And again.  And again.  As you focus your awareness on your breath, you may notice your breathing gets deeper – or more shallow.  If it changes, fine.  If it does not change, fine.  Simply focus your awareness on your breath as you inhale and exhale. Notice your breath coming into your body, moving through your body, and moving out of your body.  And again.

Good.

Now allow your awareness of your breath to gently shift, as you focus on HOW you inhale through your nose.  Notice how your breath fills your chest and belly. And then focus on HOW you exhale, also through your nose.  Nothing to do, nothing to change, just focusing your awareness on your breathing however it is in this moment.

You are becoming mindful of your breath, focusing your awareness on your breath, becoming conscious of your breathing.  Nothing to do, nothing to worry about; no correct way, no incorrect way.  Simply focusing your awareness on your breath.  As it moves into your body, as you inhale through your nose.  As it moves through your body, filling your chest and belly with breath.  As it moves out of your body, as you exhale through your nose.  Notice how it is your breath moves into, through, and out of your body.

Good.  As you continue to focus your awareness on your breath, imagine it is as if your breath were breathing you.  As if you were watching a movie called “My breath is breathing me.”  You needn’t do anything; your breath continues with or without your conscious awareness.  You are now choosing to be aware of your breath.

Focus your awareness on your breath as you inhale through your nose.  Focus your awareness on your breath as it fills your chest and belly. Focus your awareness on your breath as you exhale through your nose.

Your mind may wander: remembering something you must do, worrying about a deadline, wondering how you are doing at this meditation.  Minds wander.  It is what minds do.  When your mind wanders, when you become aware of your mind wandering, bring it back to focus on your breath, easily and gently.

Focus your awareness on your breath as you inhale through your nose.  Focus your awareness on your breath as it fills your chest and belly. Focus your awareness on your breath as you exhale through your nose.

Again.  And again.  And again.

Good.

You may find it helpful, as you breathe in, to say to yourself, ‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.’ And as you breathe out, to say ‘Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.’  Or “Breath in” and “Breath out.”  Or you may find it helpful, as you breathe, to count your breaths.  If you care to try one of these, do try it.  If not, do not.  Either with or without one of the above, you are focusing your awareness on your breath, recognizing your in-breath as an in-breath and your out-breath as an out-breath. And gently bringing your mind back to awareness on your breathing when it wanders.

Focus your awareness on your breath as you inhale through your nose.  Focus your awareness on your breath as it fills your chest and belly. Focus your awareness on your breath as you exhale through your nose.

Again.  And again.  And again.

Good.  And when you have finished, remember you can bring this feeling of focused awareness with you, as you slowly open your eyes and return to the room.

 

Copyright © 2012 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.