Here's some good news for everybody who has difficulty concentrating during meditation. The Dalai Lama does too! And he doesn't think that single-pointed attention is the best way to meditate. Analytical meditation is.
A few days ago, in a blog post I shared a lengthy passage from my new favorite book, Mindfulness Redesigned for the Twenty-First Century, by Amit Sood, M.D.
That passage ended with Sood mentioning that it was the Dalai Lama who provided the final push that got Sood to break away from the traditional meditation approach he learned growing up in India, and to embrace a modern version of mindfulness founded in a blend of modern science and ancient spirituality.
This is how Sood describes his conversation with the Dalai Lama at a Mayo Clinic event. The boldfacing is in Sood's book. I've added a section from the following chapter where Sood summarizes the seven tenets that have become the basis for his redesigned approach to mindfulness -- each of which makes a lot of sense to me.
It was a dramatic ninety minutes. I found the Dalai Lama to be kind, gentle, encouraging, fun, and wise. Spending time with him was like learning from my very sweet, very loving grandpa.
I asked the Dalai Lama lots of questions --- about human struggles, compassion, his childhood, and more. Then, in his presence, I asked these two questions to the audience of about five hundred people, the who's who of the meditation world.
(The answers would truly shock me and steer me forward in my path.) "How many of you have practiced meditation?" and "How many of you have found meditation a piece of cake, very easy?"
As expected, the majority of the participants raised their hands in response to the first question. In response to the second question, barely one or two hands went up.
At that point, the Dalai Lama, in all his humility, shared his insights about meditation. I have watched this clip several times on YouTube. He described two types of meditation: analytical and single pointed.
Analytical meditation cultivates a sense of curiosity -- an alert mind that is busy exploring the nature of the body, world, humanity, and mind. Such a mind analyzes all it sees and connects different experiences to learn about the world.
Analytic meditation helps develop a holistic view. It decreases the gap between appearance and reality. This form of meditation he found easy, and he thought it was more important than the second form of meditation -- focused attention.
For the second form of meditation, which creates a single-pointed mind (in which you focus on a single object of attention), the word Dalai Lama used was impossible. It needed a lot of time -- four, five, or six hours a day.
...Talking to the Dalai Lama was a moment of great realization for me. I felt uplifted, absolved, freed. My cage had been opened. This hummingbird was ready to fly.
If the Dalai Lama struggles with single-pointed meditation and promotes a more wisdom-seeking analytical process, why was I seeking single-pointed meditation as a first step. Why were many other programs doing the same?
I realized my folly. I was copying and pasting practices I had learned without much thinking. I had picked cliches. I was talking about the "now" without knowing what it meant. I was evangelizing about being in the present moment without knowing how difficult it was.
I was sharing practices that didn't work for the majority of the people for the long term. They were just too polite to tell me. I was setting them up for failure, swapping one trap for the other. This wasn't right, and I needed to fix it.
If the basic concepts of diet and exercise are simple and can be learned in a very short time, why shouldn't mindfulness resilience, happiness, and stress management be equally simple and accessible? I thought.
...Here are the seven tenets presented as seven tweets.
(1) Ancient wisdom relied on philosophy; modern wisdom increasingly consults twenty-first century science.
(2) Time is fleeting and untethered. Anchor presence by intentionality instead of time.
(3) Intentional attention, external or internal, engages the same brain network. Focus your meditation on the world if you struggle with the mind.
(4) If the short-term is challenged, think about the long term; if the long term is challenged, live for the next moment. Keep a flexible zoom.
(5) A non-judgmental stance can be comforting but is unachievable. Being grateful and compassionate is an easier and more accessible solution.
(6) Mindfulness isn't a practice; it is a way of life.
(7) Instead of emptying the mind, fill it with hope, inspiration, and courage.
You can see the Dalai Lama's response to the questions Sood asked the audience in this video of the event. I've set the You Tube video to start at the appropriate place, a bit after 1:05.