In most disciplines of meditation, the first thing a student learns is how to concentrate. The Master gives the students techniques. In some cases, students may be instructed to count their breath. In other cases, they are given a word to repeat over and over. Sometimes they hold a visual image in the mind’s eye or focus all their thoughts on a candle’s flame.
There are hundreds of different techniques, but they all have one aim in mind: to teach students to hold their attention on one thing and prevent their attention from wandering away to other, more interesting things.
But this is America. The meditation practice of sitting still for long periods of time may have been perfectly appropriate for an unmarried, childless Brahmin priest who was a member of a caste that was supported by the government, but you and I have to make our own living. We don’t have such an enormous privilege of time and guaranteed income. We need to be up and doing. And there’s a lot to be done.
The ability to concentrate is the core ability, the essential skill. Control your attention and you control your mind. But the discipline to control your attention doesn’t have to be done sitting still. It can be done with anything — including your job.
Your job can become a “spiritual” discipline. The practice is simply to keep your attention on your work. And unless it’s a challenging part of your job that compels your attention, your mind will tend to wander, just as it does in meditation. You’ll get distracted. You may get sidetracked with a daydream or playing a computer game or talking on the phone. In some studies, researchers found that while people were at work, fully 25 percent of the time they weren’t actually working.
The practice of meditation is to bring the mind back to the task every time it wanders. Over and over and over again. This is meditation.
Do that with your work, and you are meditating. Do it often and you will slowly but steadily increase your ability to concentrate.
You can make any job challenging with this technique. Let’s call it the Productive Meditation Technique. Simply do your job with the intention of paying attention to what you’re supposed to be doing. When you notice you have gotten off track, get back to the purpose. Get crystal clear on the purpose and function of your job and the part it plays in the overall scheme of things, and then pay that purpose all of your attention. Your mind will wander. When you notice you’ve strayed from the purpose, bring yourself back. Again and again.
Then take the practice home. Sweep the floors or listen to someone you love as a meditation. Whenever your thoughts wander, bring them back. Practice mowing the lawn with your full attention. Cook dinner with your full attention. Talk to your child with your full attention. This ability to keep your mind here in this moment is not a trivial skill. It may not get you reincarnated as a higher being, but it will make you more alive right here and now.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.