Harmonizing the Mind

"He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe."
Marcus Aurelius

It is the nature of our minds to roam about. Each new sound or change in our visual field draws our attention. Sensations from our body tug at awareness. Thoughts rise up from the dark into the light of consciousness, whether we want them to or not. So when we want to be vigilant, to focus our attention, we may find the task difficult.

Perhaps we want to pray or study or listen to someone's concerns or sit with a sick or dying person-to just be present with them. We want to give our full attention, but our mind drifts. Thoughts of what else we could or should be doing come up. A sound in the next room draws us. A memory, a fantasy, a worry comes to mind and we are away with it. Our stomach tells us it is time to eat. Our restless body feels like moving. Noise from people outside irritates us, and the string of thoughts from that emotion takes us from our vigil.

Our minds are not just one thing. Numerous mental processes occur in our brains simultaneously. It is as if we have a number of brains. We can be sensing, emoting, thinking, and moving our body all at the same time. Sometimes, perhaps much of the time, these processes are not in harmony. Our intention is to sit down to write a letter or to read a chapter in a text book or to pay the bills, but our thoughts are with the thing we need to do tomorrow or what happened today or the dessert that is sitting all alone in the kitchen. Our desire to complete our task competes with other desires, some of which have shorter term and more gratifying payoffs.

If we were able to bring our mental processes into a focused harmony, we could accomplish more, be more present in the moment and enjoy life more fully. Our relationships could improve as we gained the capacity to direct our attention at the other and lose ourselves in the interaction. We would feel better, because harmony feels good. The peace that comes from harmonious mental states opens us to the possibility of joy. Peace with consciousness is a recipe for bliss.

If we are distractible, if our minds are out of harmony, we might benefit from certain mental practices that would improve our ability to focus and bring our various mental actions into accord. If you made a list of the components of such practices, you might discover that you were describing meditation.

Here are some suggestions for harmonizing mental activity and improving focus and concentration:

Find a posture you can hold comfortably with minimal need to adjust your position. Be still.

Reduce sensory input. Be in a quiet place if possible. Close out or mask disturbing noise, if you can.

Adopt a fixed gaze. Don't look around. Look at the object of your concentration. Or if appropriate, close your eyes.

Breathe to focus. Direct your attention to your breath. Let it become slower and deeper. As you lose the focus on the breath, come back to it from time to time.

Determine your intention. What it is it you are intending in the moment? To pray? To listen? To read? To write? To solve a problem? To perform some other task? Remind yourself of that intention when your mind wanders. Watch for thoughts and emotions that distract from your intention and cut them off. Return from each digression. Refresh your intention.

Resolve conflicts of mind by giving up the fight and returning to your intention.

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© 2005 Tom Barrett