The Seeker of Peace

Meditative Focus
July 16, 2009, 2:45 pm
Filed under: spirituality | Tags: , , , , ,

I am currently reading Winifred Gallagher’s recent book, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. It’s a well-researched discussion of how we change our subjective reality by what we choose to focus on. There’s no spiritualism or Law of Attraction here; Gallagher is drawing on research about how the brain operates to explain why, for example, a higher emotional state can result in a better life.

One section on meditation struck me as particularly interesting. Here’s an excerpt:

Not only how you focus, but also what you focus on can have important neurophysiological and behavioral consequences. Just as one-pointed concentration on a neutral target, such as your breath, particularly strengthens certain of the brain’s attentional systems, meditation on a specific emotion – unconditional love – seems to tune up certain of its affective networks.

This runs counter to the claims of many self-proclaimed self-help gurus, who say that any type of meditation will give you the same benefits. I have seen many recommendations to do whatever type of meditation you feel most comfortable with. However, if Gallagher is correct, different meditative focuses will produce dramatically different results.

If I meditate on a point of focus, I’ll have better attention and be less distracted. If I meditate on emotions such as love, joy, and gratitude, I’ll become more empathetic and less prone to fear and anxiety. Frankly, I could do with improvement in both areas.

The funny thing here is that I don’t recall anyone ever recommending meditating on an emotion. As part of my Sedona Method practice, I’ve summoned particular emotions, although not for long enough to qualify as meditation. Larry Crane often recommends “loving yourself,” although that’s hardly the same thing as meditating on love.

I have been terrible with my meditation practice to date. This is largely because I’ve been sucked into trying for the Zen ideal of a blank mind. It would be much easier to focus on something specific, or on an emotion. Perhaps it’s time to redouble my efforts at meditation. And, this time, I’ll make sure to choose my focus carefully.