Focus in a Chaotic World
What you want to do vs. what you can do
When you pick up any new habit, be it meditation or something that you’re interested in like reading or a new hobby, you will quickly realize that there is an inherent conflict that is built into the nature of how things are. The conflict is between what you want to do and what you can do.
If we had all the time in the world, if we had all the resources or even the basic structure that allowed us to be ourselves even for a few hours every day, then practicing meditation would not be that difficult. Sooner or later, you will discover that there are only a handful of things that you can do that can help you, and there are a million ways to get distracted. It’s so easy to get lost in things that you don’t want to be doing. You simply get sucked into it only to realize later that that is not at all what you wanted to do. There are too many things like that; especially today, especially now.
We are living in an age of information overload. The problem is not finding something and sticking with it. The problem is how do you stay away from distractions? There will always be a conflict between what you want to do and what you can do. Sometimes, it’s just the circumstances: The number of hours you have to work, and the time that is left after you take care of yourself and people around you. Unless you’re willing to make some fundamental changes in your lifestyle it is difficult to accommodate any new habit and stick with it. Focus is as much about in-the-moment concentration as it is about consistency.
It’s not that difficult to pick up a habit and say, “All right, for the next half an hour I’m going to focus. I’m going to dedicate this time for my meditation.” It’s actually not that difficult. You can simply decide and choose to focus. The problem is, how will you continue that over a period time? You can focus for one day, two days, or three days, but things like meditation – or whatever it is – that can truly transform you, have to be consistently practiced over a period of time. You cannot just do it for a few days and say, “Okay, I’m done with it.” Consistency comes by bringing in couple of factors: One is clearing out that space that is necessary for your growth. This means saying, “No” to people, “No” to certain activities, and distancing yourself from excessive indulgence in social media or watching television, or whatever it might be. First, you’ve got to create that space.
When we grow up, we grow up like a small seedling amidst lots of weeds. We begin to grow, and then we realize that we don’t have enough space for ourselves; there’s too much happening around us, too many people around us, and too many ideas. We don’t have that breathing space. The first thing you need to do is figure out a way to clear out a patch of fertile ground. The hardest part, the most difficult part, is to say, “No” to things that you have indulged in, that entertain you, or that you have involved yourself in. It’s not like somebody has forced things upon you. In your unconsciousness, in your own awareness, you have picked up a lot of things. Distancing yourself from those things is the first step. Clear out that fertile ground. Once you have that fertile space, the next thing you need is how to consistently keep in touch with your practice?
Supply Knowledge to Support your Meditation
Meditation is as much about intellectual inquiry as it is about practice. You cannot continue your practice beyond a certain point if you’re not consistently supplying it with knowledge. You have to surround yourself with meditative knowledge. You have to either be reading books, meeting people who are interested in meditation, watching videos, or things like that. You have to keep one part of yourself involved in the knowledge of meditation; otherwise, you will lose interest.
How to Make Time for Meditation
Make a simple list of three or four things that you want to say no to. It could be saying no to sleeping eight hours a day. If you’re able to take down your sleep from eight hours to six hours, you will have two more hours for your meditation. Say no to watching television every day for maybe an hour or a couple of hours. These are just a couple of examples. In your life, in your circumstances, it might be completely different, but you can always see that there will be a few things that you can cut down on to find that time. Initially, it will seem difficult and it will seem rude to a few people, but eventually you’ll realize that it was necessary. If you want to keep everyone happy, everyone comfortable, then you will be uncomfortable; that’s the law of nature. At some point in time you have to put things in perspective and say, “Okay, I want to keep people around me happy, but how will I be able to do that if I’m not happy? Meditation is for my happiness, my peace of mind, and for my Realization, and I’m in it for the long run. I don’t want to meditate just for a few days and question its benefits. I would rather pick it up as a habit, and keep learning.”
Meditation is a completely different universe; there is no end to the exploration of meditation. You can only begin your meditation. There is no such thing as, “This much meditation is enough” because meditation is self-introspection. It is not just another activity; it is a catalyst to all other activities. Meditation is a way of making sense of everything that is happening in your life. If meditation is a way of understanding life, then the more you meditate, the better it is.
Meditation is Transformation
How much understanding is enough for you to live happy? Nobody can put a boundary on that, and there isn’t a boundary. The more you understand yourself, the more you will feel like understanding yourself. The thirst to know yourself increases, so instead of thinking of meditation as another practice that you want to bring into your life, look at meditation and mindfulness as the platform on which you want to build your life. Don’t think of it as just sitting and closing your eyes and watching your breath or listening to music. Meditating is not an activity. Meditation is a lifestyle. It’s a complete change in the way you look at life. It’s a complete transformation in the way you look at your life every moment. A meditative way of living is a different way of living. It is to be in the present moment, it is to enjoy the simple things. It is to appreciate the simple joys of life. It is to constantly be aware of your life getting complicated and drawing yourself back to the simplicity of life. That is what meditation is.
With all the things that are happening, I can see how difficult it is for people to step away from everything that is happening around and just focus on themselves and meditation. That is a challenge because we have created a very guilty society where an individual’s happiness and peace of mind is sort of looked at as selfishness. It isn’t. I’ve spoken about this several times. Selfishness is good if it is for self transformation. You have to be selfish internally to be able to find the time for yourself, to be able to focus on something that can transform you.
Eventually, the knowledge that you gain for yourself will help others, but if you’re not willing to take that selfish time for yourself and practice your meditation, you will be just stuck with this idea of selflessness. You’ll be talking about problems, you’ll be talking about all the things that are happening in the world; you will be a part of the problem, but you will not be a part of the solution. The solution comes from a completely different space of our mind. Problems and solutions are not together; they are two different trees on two different soils producing two different fruits. If you have climbed the tree of problems, you can be on that tree for the rest of your life. You will not find the solution. You will find all kinds of problems, different kinds of problems, but you will never find a solution. Finding a solution means to recognize that you’re on the wrong tree. You’ve got to climb down from that tree and search for the tree of solution. Meditation is the tree of solution. Silence is the solution. Internal peace is the solution. Relaxation is the solution.
Chaos, confusion, comparison, competition, struggle, and ambition – all these are part of our conflicts in the mind. Yes, we are drawn into it, it’s a part of life, it’s at work, it’s in the family, it’s everywhere. You can see that you’re being sucked into all these things. That’s where your choices become important. You have to make some firm decisions and stick with them. You have to become a man or woman of your word when you say, “I want to practice meditation every day for one hour.” You have to practice it. There is no compromising. There is no question of explaining things to yourself in a way that is convenient for you. You can’t say things like, “I don’t want to meditate today because this is happening, or I don’t want to meditate today because it’s Friday” – it’s the excuses that we give ourselves that make us fail.
Watching the Movie of Your Life
Meditation is a little uncomfortable. It’s not like watching a movie; you can watch an engaging two-hour movie easily, but to sit and watch your thoughts for two hours is extraordinarily difficult, because it’s reality. You’re watching the movie of your life and there are things that you don’t like. There are things that you don’t want to see. You cannot completely detach yourself from what’s happening in your mind, so it’s painful, it’s difficult and it’s exhausting. That is why sitting quiet for 15 or 20 minutes or even an hour is an extraordinarily difficult thing. You have to confront your mind and your pain, and you have to confront your challenges. That is what growth is.
If you ask me, “What is the best way to understand life? What is the best way to make sense of my life and live the best possible life? The answer is very simple: The way to understand life is to forget about “the” life that is happening outside and simply focus on your life. The problem is there too much of “the” life happening. We are told “Life should be this, life should be that.” There is no such thing. There’s only one life that matters, and that is your own life – the way you look at things. If someone were to capture all your thoughts, project them onto a screen like a movie, and show it to you every day for about an hour, at the end of two or three years you would know everything about your life. You don’t need any other knowledge. You don’t need to read another book. You don’t need a teacher. You don’t need anything. If your own life is projected onto the screen and you’re just sitting and watching it, you would learn from your experiences.
All that you’re searching for, all that you have gone through, is within you. Your entire experience of life is within you. Imagine that you’re watching this movie, whether you want to or not, and at the end of one hour you’re learning something: These are the mistakes that I made, and this is how I’m treating people. This is how I’m treating myself and this is where I can make some adjustments.
The problem now is that we don’t give ourselves that time to watch our life. We are too busy trying to create a life. We are too busy trying to become something else, and we are not giving enough time to reflect on the life that we have already lived. Just think about all the experiences that you have been through, and whatever you are searching for is already there. All you need is for someone to take all your thoughts and project them onto a screen and show it to you. That is what meditation is. Meditation is not about the breath; it is not about listening to music. Those are just props. The real process of meditation is watching your thoughts. When you close your eyes and watch your thoughts, you are learning. Your life is being illuminated in front of you. Whether you want it or not, you are becoming richer in your experience and you’re learning so much.
Learn through Everything!
So, supplement your meditation with knowledge, with reasoning, with logic, and with science. Keep inquiring about it. Find different teachers. Learn from different people. Just let go of your ego a little bit and learn from all kinds of people – from people you don’t even like. Learn from people from completely different religions, completely different communities. Open up your imagination and try to see what meditation can do for you. The more you learn about meditation, the more you’ll become interested in it. That I can absolutely assure you, because there’s so much to it. As I said, meditation is not another activity. Meditation is the foundation of life. Meditation is nothing but you, your consciousness, and the present moment; that’s all.
Nothing can go wrong in meditation. What can go wrong? You’re not jumping off a building, you’re not bicycling. All you’re doing is sitting quiet and watching your thoughts. What can go wrong? If something can go wrong in the world of your thoughts, it’s better that it goes wrong and you watch it. That’s why meditation works. It’s pure. It’s just you, your consciousness and your awareness. How do you stay focused with it? Clear out unwanted distractions, be firm with your practice, keep supplementing your meditation with knowledge and with more understanding, and slowly, over a period of time, your focus will improve. Focus is also like exercise; you have to keep focusing to become more focused. You cannot simply snap your finger and say, “Starting today I want to become more focused.” It’s not possible. You have to build it over a period of time and you have to be willing to face the failures of not being able to focus. When you begin to focus you will realize how little you have exercised your focus. You will feel disappointed: “I’m not even able to focus on such a simple thing.” But that’s the learning. Over a period of time your focus will develop, and once you have enough focus, it’s just a matter of choosing: This is my meditation, this is my practice, this is my life, and I want to stick with it.