A Weird Breakthrough: Focus Meditation vs. Insight Meditation

So, I’ve been meditating on and off for a few years now.  Had a 90 day streak going in 2014, experimented with binaural beats to enhance my brain waves, studied some Buddhism, have noticed some benefits from meditation, but never was really wowed with it.  I just tried to keep with it because so many people swear by it and more importantly there is really good science that shows that it has a host of mental, emotional and physical benefits.

Most of my meditations have been in the category of “insight meditation.”  Instead of focusing on a single object as in focus meditation, with insight meditation, you simply sit with a broad awareness and notice things.  This technique has really built an understanding of my mind for me, and that has been beneficial in seeing how my mind works and so helps me indirectly.  But I really never got wowed myself by it.  Until this week.

Even though I’ve read from sources that you really should build your insight meditation on top of an already good focus practice, I kind of skipped that step.  Now I can see I made a mistake.  But this week I made a shift to focus meditation in a way I never have before.  I committed to it.  This came from noticing for the thousand millionth time how unfocused my life and mind are in general.  I had never really succeeded at focus meditation.  My mind always wandered, I couldn’t keep with it.

But this past Monday, I went to a local Sangha in Bangkok and the monk as he was preparing us for a half hour meditation mentioned something I had never heard before and it struck me with force.  He said, when you sit and watch the breath, don’t sit with the idea of the breath, but rather notice and experience the physical sensation of the breath.  That seemed interesting, so I decided to try it out.

As I sat that night, I had a fantastically focused experience for a half hour.  I stayed watching my physical experience, and that almost completely divorced my mind from thought.  I was able to simply sit and watch my breath with my entire mind most of the time, fascinated by the nuances of each moment of every breath.  The translation from thinking about focusing on my breath as a mental exercise to actually focusing on my breath as a complete experience, crucially including the feeling of the air moving through my body in each moment, brought me incredibly present.

This was a huge breakthrough.  Not only am I able to “succeed” at staying focused throughout the meditation, but I am now actually seeing the much vaunted benefits of meditation appear in my life firsthand.  My mind is incredibly more focused and clear after meditating in this way.  It feels rested and sharp.  And by developing this insane focus for 20 minutes each day in the morning, the rest of the day I stay on task much easier.  The ability to leave my thoughts and go into my body even makes sex better, I noticed today.  Way better.

This evening as usual, at around 7:30pm, my brain was tired and I felt like tuning out and going into the downward “going to bed” mentality that usually eclipses my evenings.  So I tried an experiment.  I sat down with my little Buddha candle in front of me and did another 20 minute session.  When I came out of it and sat down in front of my computer to finish watching Bill Maher, I realized I would rather study Thai.  I did so for a half hour, and then I stopped and poured a glass of bourbon.

Then I remembered I was going to blog about meditation.  So I just banged this post out too.  This is remarkable for me, these two small bits of productivity, because they both involved concentration at some level and focus, something that normally at this time of night, just aren’t there for me.  And the motivation, forget about it normally.  But after round 2 of meditation, bang, there it is.  Hmm.

Remarkable!  I recommend you add this trick to your meditations if you are not already experiencing success in focus meditation or find your mind wandering excessively.  Just watch the breath as a full experience, and stop thinking about watching the breath.  Get fascinated by it.  I’m excited!  I feel like meditating more and more… quite interesting.


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