I find it hard to concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds if I’m not focused on what I am doing at that moment. It’s easy to recognize the feeling of being fully focused when you are doing something you enjoy so much that you lose track of time and space. It’s harder to reach that feeling, though, when you are consistently distracted by outside sources in your daily life. With our 24-hour a day technology, we live in a world of almost infinite possibility for distraction. Meditation has been proven to help with focus and attention.
I’ve practiced meditation and mindfulness consistently for over a decade now, and I’ve see an improvement in my focus. Yet when life throws something unexpected at me, I sometimes lose what ground I’ve gained in mindfulness. I recall times I’ve been able to sit for 30 minutes or longer and really concentrate my attention and awareness – on my breath, my breathing, how my body feels at that moment. For me, that’s a long time, but it’s enough time to quiet my internal chatter and allow clearer thinking.
But when life throws something unexpected (lasting over one day) at me, my meditation practices become more disruptive. I feel like I’m back at square one, starting over again. The pandemic has done that, as has the long-term care and resulting death of my mother.
I have looked for ways to get back into the focused state of meditation over the last few months, but it seems harder and harder to come by. One day, while sitting outside when I had some free time, I was lamenting the fact that I could (and probably should) be trying to meditate. In the state I was in, though, even the sounds of birds were a distraction. I was away from the technology and distractions of my normal life, and yet I couldn’t relax and just pay attention to my breathing.
I started watching two vultures in the sky. They circled opposite each other in a game of follow-the-leader, and yet neither one was the leader. They floated through the sky, getting higher and higher as they circled. Their flight path mesmerized me. I continued watching to see how long it would be before they became a small dot in the sky and disappeared. Once they did, I felt as if I was waking from a coma. For about ten minutes, the rest of the world had disappeared. My brain had allowed no distractions in. It focused me.
When vultures smell food, they circle in smaller and smaller circles and get lower to the ground until they pinpoint exactly where the smell is coming from. These birds were doing just the opposite of that. I thought about how meditative it must be to fly around in circles like that. Why do they do it? What benefit are they getting from circling higher and higher? I thought about how nature seems to provide its own form of meditation for some. Do wild animals need to rest their brains between times of trying to find food? I don’t know, but it was a pleasant form of pondering.
I moved on to more thoughts. How does the changing ecology and environment affect their normal habits? How do they compensate for those changes? Then the larger questions came. Why can’t we just enjoy what nature gives us without feeling the need to change it to accommodate ourselves? It’s an absolutely beautiful cloud free day at my house, and yet most people won’t take a moment to enjoy the nice weather or the pleasant day. I realized that my vulture watching exercise had resulted in a period of distraction free focus, followed by free thoughts and questions. I quietly thanked the large birds for helping me to reach what I was looking for.
Now, when I am consistently distracted during meditation, I visualize the large birds circling in the clouds becoming smaller and smaller until they disappear. It helps me focus my mind on one thing and return to that feeling of tuning out the distractions. It’s my form of counting sheep without falling asleep.
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