As we all know, at least to those who work on themselves in the true meaning of the word, thus not only by acquiring theoretical concepts, but also by verifying and putting them into practice, that during our daily practices to gain a better state of presence, it is usual to experience a constant dispersion of attention. To overcome such a problem, many find it useful to control their breath, for the reason that during a practice of pranayama, this action is relatively easy; but this doesn’t happen during daily life, especially when we have to use “rational thought” during our job activities.
So, for example, a programmer or a designer, when he has to use his mind to resolve a logical question, he finds himself in difficulties with his attention. When he controls the breath, it happens that such a type of thought becomes inhibited, while other feelings related to the perception of the body and the surrounding space increase.
It’s not so uncommon that such “problem” produces discouragement. Why does this happen? And how do we overcome this inhibition of the logical processes?
If we use our intellectual field to resolve some problems that arise during our daily job, it’s a normal thing that most of our attention is focused on the act of thinking itself. This happens because we haven’t yet learned to focus our attention on more than one function at the same time, maintaining them as separate. So, we are either aware of our breath, or of our thoughts.
The mechanical- associative thought doesn’t require the same energy and attention of a conscious thought; better said, it could not be considered, from this point of view, true thinking: it happens autonomously and it can’t be controlled as a weak control of the intellectual field. During a practice of presence it’s rare to achieve sufficient concentration to focus all the energies on the practice itself. When one learns how to do it, associative thoughts tend to cease because what causes them doesn’t receive more “fuel”. So, in this case, mind is totally focused on the exercise.
It’s not an unusual thing. The source of this problem is a misunderstanding, so common for one who is a novice in the practice of presence: indeed, “being aware of our breath” is often misunderstood with a “control” of the breath, such as a kind of “walking” pranayama. But it isn’t so. Yes, we can slow our breath, make it more “natural”, relaxed, fluid, but it’s not a recommendation for those who are beginners in such practices of presence. Just observing the breath is enough, without trying to manipulate it to make it deeper or longer. Just putting the attention on the breath is more simple (and not for this less effective).
There are also some people who, for various reasons, find the breath observation difficult. There are also some people who suffer anxiety, and focusing their attention on the breath process produces for them more than few discomforts. There is a solution even for this “problem”: instead of the breath as an anchor to the present moment, near the attention dedicated to the daily job, use the body postures as a form of attention.
All the rest comes with practice, perseverance and experience: a lucid awareness on more functions, thoughts and actions at the same time. We have also to remind ourselves that mind, body and emotions are “tools at our disposal”, so we can learn to control them. But this comes only through practice, perseverance and… attention.