The Dark Side of Meditation

Meditation can rescue you from focus, not from distraction. Because distraction is just misplaced focus.

A human being can not be unfocused. If you don’t believe me, try to focus on absolutely nothing. Even if you can do it, you’re still focused on whatever ‘nothing’ is. I don’t want to be a philosopher, so let’s leave it at that. Maybe certain monks are lucky enough to experience an authentic state of unfocus, where they feel nothingness or emptiness, or something. The rest of us may feel a lack of control over what we can focus on.

What does it mean to focus on the breath? You could experience the breath as a part of yourself — the diaphragm rising and falling, the stomach inflating and deflating. Or, you could experience the breath as something separated from yourself — a small patch of air that curiously finds his way into your body, looks around for a few seconds and then swiftly leaves the same way he came in. So, do you focus on the air itself — what it smells like, tastes like, feels like, even looks like? Or do you focus on your body’s reaction to the air— the movements of your chest, stomach and diaphragm?

What are you listening to? The buzz of silence? The faint clock tick? The soft wind behind your windows? The sporadic creek of the walls? Or the slight wisps and sounds of your own breath? The breath is not the kernel of simplicity, it is the periphery of complexity.

William Blake reminds us,

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

It doesn’t have to be that dramatic, though. I just ask myself this: Why do I pervert my attention and fetishize the idea of “focus” if I’m not totally in love with what I have to focus on? The world can be a kaleidoscope; a breath isn’t just a breath. Like the self-help gurus say: Change what you focus on to change your reality.

If focus on the breath isn’t working out for you, try listening for it — maybe you’re more responsive to sound. Or try seeing it — maybe you’re a visual person. But it’s not just about the breath! Explore every single layer, of every single thing, until you find your thing. Distraction is my gift, and yours too.

Unfortunately, the words “distraction” and “focus” may still result in more confusion than clarity. So in the end, I don’t bother with thinking about how ‘distracted’ or ‘focused’ I am. All I want for Christmas is to be aware. Whatever that means.

To conclude, meditation is like a COVID vaccine: It affects everyone differently.

Instead of inventing better words or new languages, I’d rather help push the frontiers of brain science so you can actually experience what I experience. Soon, baby!

Student @ Brown U. Author of NYTimes Bestseller ‘This is Me: Clickbait in My Bio.’