Shrinking the Focus of My Frenzied Mind

Written by Padua Science Teacher Carolyn Keefe

My colleague Ryan introduced me to meditation a year ago. I’ll admit that I haven’t made a totally regular schedule of it, but there are moments throughout my day when the meditation techniques I learned from him – like focusing on the breath – are particularly helpful. When my mind’s focus sprawls too far and is spread too thin, it is such a helpful skill to shrink that frame of focus. First I shrink it down to my surroundings, then down to the rhythms of my own body, and then finally zeroing in on the breath coming in and out of my nose and mouth.

Now seems like an especially appropriate time to reign in the scope of my mind and focus on breath. This pandemic has turned me into an obsessive news-checker and worrier. Within moments, I jump from worldwide infection curves, to political developments in DC, to the latest coronavirus updates where family and friends live. While it’s critical to be well-informed, my daily news briefings can quickly spiral into dark hours of worry, sadness, and frustration. When meditating, however, I can reign in that sprawling frenzy. I shrink it down to the borders of my own home, then to the outline of my own body, then finally just to the small triangle of space from the tip of my nose to the corners of my mouth. Breathing smoothly in and out, I feel newfound appreciation for the simple gift of normal, rhythmic breath, when I know that so many with COVID-19 struggle for air. I feel a wave of gratitude to be sitting safe and still in my home, when I know that essential employees are working long hours and coming home exhausted, and many people endure a home that is chaotic or unsafe.

My worries and my to-do list are real, and my thirst for information is ever-present. These do not disappear when meditating. Rather, I gently clear space among my jumbled thoughts to savor the exact moment of space and time that I am occupying. Ironically, as my concentration shrinks down to a narrow focus on breath, this meditative experience ends up giving me a much wider perspective on the shared struggles of this pandemic. I emerge less frustrated and more appreciative, less frantic and more hopeful.

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