Self-Directed Attention is very, very hard in the beginning. It can seem almost impossible to do.
If Self-Directed Attention is causing you too much distress, try doing the following meditation for a while instead.
This is the Buddhist Shamata Meditation (mindfulness or concentration) and it is the basis of the Self-Directed Attention Exercise.
We advise anyone who is having difficulty with Self-Directed Attention to try this meditation first.
Doing this meditation for a while will prepare your mind for the more strict and more difficult Self-Directed Attention Exercise.
Sit in a quiet place. If there is too much noise around, move to another place or do it later, when things quiet down around you.
Take your shoes off and sit down. You can sit on a cushion on the floor with your legs crossed, or on a chair, with your feet touching the floor. Choose the way that makes you feel the most comfortable.
It is easier in the beginning to do it sitting on a chair. Sit so that your feet are flat on the floor with your spine upright without overly slouching or sitting too rigid. If possible, do not rest back of the chair. Your knees should be the level of the hips or lower.
When you sit on a chair, rest your hands on your thighs.
Stretch a little: imagine that your spine is gently being pulled up from the top of your head.
Now, settle in your position. Keep an upright, erect posture, but allow the spine to keep its natural curves.
Gaze down, resting your eyesight a couple of inches in front of your nose. Your eyes are open, but not staring. Your gaze is soft and unfocused.
Notice that you are still aware of your environment, just focusing your attention a couple of inches in front of your nose.
Now start paying attention to the sensation of your breath in your nostrils. You are not focusing your attention; you are resting your attention on your breath.
Just notice it going in and out of your body. The breath should not be forced, just watch your natural breathing without trying to change it in any way.
Some people have difficulty feeling the sensation of the breath in their nostrils. Try exhaling strongly so you can locate the sensation. If you still have difficulty, do not let that stop you. Try breathing with your lips slightly parted, just enough to get air in and out.
Check to see if you are breathing in your chest. If that is the case, try letting the airflow into your abdomen. This will help you relax and bring you a sense of calm.
This practice will help you recognize the movements of the mind, which we call thoughts.
Your mind will most likely be wild and it is good to recognize that. Do not push yourself or criticize yourself for getting distracted. That is the usual way of the untrained mind.
As soon as you notice that you are off thinking, mentally call it “thinking” and gently and without judgment come back to the breath. The word “thinking” is just a neutral label, not a criticism.
Do this practice 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. You may want to start with just 5 minutes at a time and then move on to 10 minutes at a time when you are more comfortable with the practice. It is helpful to set a timer so you know when the time is over. When you are done, move on to your daily activities, and do not think about it.
Please do not beat yourself up with it. It is not a competition. Be patient with yourself; be kind to yourself.
Do this for a month or two and please let us know what you notice.