Focal Point Exercise
This is the most boring of the four exercises. It is best to begin in a place that is quiet, where you will not be disturbed. As you gain in ability, try doing it with some controlled distractions, such as music or a television playing quietly in the background. When you feel ready, practise in a crowded place. You may be surprised how quickly you reach a level where you can shut out enough of the noise to adequately focus.
I find that the best place to begin is in bed, either before sleep or before rising for the day. Depending on the time of day the house is likely to be quiet, and you are in a place which is usually associated with quiet and rest. Lie in bed and choose a spot on the ceiling at about eye level, or slightly above, and make a mental note of its position. Get up (I hope you didn’t get too comfortable), and mark the place with a small spot sticker, easily obtainable at any office-supply store.
Lie down again and close your eyes. Breathing exercises are a classic in the literature, and with good reason. They work. At first, simply be aware of your breathing. Don’t force it or attempt to control it at this stage. Simply be aware of the gentle rhythm of your breath. After a little while you will notice that the rate has slowed a little and can move to the next stage. Rather than breathing deeply, which will wake you up, maintain the slow, shallow rhythm. Don’t over-breathe, but certainly don’t under-breathe either. Begin to mentally count out the duration of each inhalation and exhalation. The duration is not important, as long as it is regular. With each inhalation, focus on breathing into the bottom of your lungs, rather than the top. To ensure you are doing this correctly, place one hand on your chest and the other on your diaphragm. The hand on your diaphragm should move before – and higher than – the one on your chest. Continue inhaling for the normal count, and pausing for an equal or slightly lesser count, before exhaling. Make the exhalation a sigh for the first few breaths, going for a little longer than the inhalation. A slightly longer exhalation will increase your body’s level of carbon dioxide. This is not a bad thing, in fact it is a very good thing as it will naturally calm you. Your body will tell you if you’re doing this wrong, and the only way to do it wrong is to force your breathing into a weird, unnatural pattern. As long as you are comfortable, you are doing it correctly.
Maintain focus on your breathing until it falls into an automatic rhythm, without your needing to count it out. Once you have reached this stage, open your eyes.
Rest your gaze upon the dot on the ceiling. Don’t strain your eyes or glare at the dot. The aim is to simply rest your eyes there, with an emphasis on the word rest. It is simply a place to let your eyes come to rest, a place for them to sit without effort. Become aware of the sounds in your immediate environment. There are always sounds to be heard, and you will notice more of them when the house is quiet and you’re paying attention. Perhaps the whir of a computer fan, or that near-audible whine of a television in another room. The creak of the house settling, and the wind outside. One by one, allow yourself to notice these sounds and acknowledge them. Accept that they are there, and mentally affirm that they are not very interesting. These unimportant background noises will, in fact, help you to relax and maintain focus upon the dot on the ceiling. Don’t try to block them out, as that will only draw attention to them. Simply acknowledge that they are there, and let them go.
Return your attention to the dot. You may find that your eyes have wandered. That’s normal. Simply bring your gaze back to rest upon the dot. Notice its colour, and the round shape. You’ll notice that the patch of ceiling around the dot is not very interesting, and you can mentally tell yourself this. Maintain your focus on the dot. Try to avoid the trap of focusing on the act of focusing. Should this occur, simply return your attention to the dot. If a thought arises, allow it to arrive and acknowledge that it exists before returning your attention to the dot. If your eyes become uncomfortable, you can blink normally. You will find that if you close your eyes halfway, then re-open them, you can maintain your gaze without needing to blink as often. Let this happen without really thinking about it, and keep your attention on the dot.
As stated, this method is boring, but it is also very relaxing. You may even find yourself looking forward to each night’s practise before sleep. Don’t worry too much about the actual length of time spent focusing on the dot. As long as you practise diligently and continue returning your attention to the dot each time you are distracted, you will quickly improve. The important thing to remember here is not to struggle, and not to focus on focusing. The rule of thumb is to return your attention to the dot anytime something intrudes.