Exercise: Attending and Directing

In order to meditate you need to know the difference between directing your thoughts and attending to them. So here is an exercise to help you learn the difference. If you already know, just skip over this. However, if you are new, this is probably the most important thing you will learn.

Sit somewhere comfortable. I am going to ask you to manage your awareness of your body for the purpose of relaxing. Then I am going to ask you to attend to the feeling of being relaxed. You should soon be experiencing the difference between attending to and directing your thoughts.

Starting at the top of your head, become aware of any unnecessary tension or avoidable discomfort. Many people carry tension around in their scalp. Raise and lower your eyebrows and just be aware of the difference between tension and relaxation. Relax. Squint your eyes and relax. You may be one of the people who carry tension around your eyes or temples, almost like you life in a strong wind or are straining to see things you don’t quite grasp. Just squint, then relax and be aware of the difference. Now relax. How about your jaw? Tighten, then relax your jaw. Be aware of what it feels like to be relaxed. Close your eyes and continue down your body to your neck. After you are done with your toes, open your eyes and continue.

You have just been managing what many call your center of awareness. During this exercise you were relatively unaware of sounds around you, the flow of your own thoughts and even discomfort in parts of your body you were not focusing on.

Our natural ability to block our awareness of most of what is going on around us is called gating. Gating reflects our training, values and experience. Quite automatically we focus awareness on a relatively small area of our total experience and “gate out” the rest.

Now relax again, close your eyes and simply ask, “What am I thinking about?” After doing that for a few minutes open your eyes. Most people will realize that they have sort of a conversation going on pretty much all the time and the subject changes on a somewhat random basis.

Next relax, close your eyes and ask, “What do I have to do to get ready for bed?” As you think about it I think you will discover that the flow of “stuff” is still there in the background, but you are now attending to the part of your mind that actively plans and manages. This is your “Director.”

You think on several levels at once but typically attend to only one of those levels at a time. Also, you can choose to move from attending to directing or back again.

Now alternate between just being aware of the flow of thoughts and planning something practical. You are learning to choose to be aware of attending vs directing thought.

The Hebrew word for wisdom means, literally, listening with the the heart for the heart of the matter. Attending is fundamental to conversation, to learning and to developing a God listening heart. Whenever I suggest you pray for learning, understanding, direction or whatever I am encouraging you to stop directing and listen instead. If you attend to the flow of your thoughts you will, from time to time, discover new ways to seeing things.

In his letter, James said,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5 NIV

What I am teaching you is how to ask for wisdom by asking for God’s input and hushing up and listening.

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