Over the last month I have been taking a Pilates reformer class. It is a killer workout, and requires a lot of focus on the poses to reap the max benefit and not throw out your back. So I make an effort to concentrate on my form. I noticed this morning that I can have two kinds of concentration.
The first kind wonders if I am doing it “right.” When I feel that I am doing it right, it loses interest and wanders away, until it notices that I am no longer doing it right. Then it jumps back in and says: “You are going backwards! Not acceptable! You should be steadily improving!” And with this shot of discipline and back-talk, I pay attention again. Not too fun.
The second kind of concentration is not so concerned with the final goal of perfection. Instead, it just notes, moment by moment, how the practice feels in my body. It feels when things feel aligned and powerful. And when they fall out of alignment, it feels that too, and naturally moves back toward a position of greater strength. This inner awareness isn’t hovering over my shoulder with a ruler, waiting to strike. Instead, it is . . . playing! It is curious and having fun being alive and getting to move. It’s still paying close attention to my inner experience (I am not just bopping my head along to the music), but it is doing so from a place of openness.
You can bring these two types of concentration to any practice.
The quality of your awareness determines your experience, not the other way around.
Take meditation, as another example. Many people bring the first kind to meditation. They unconsciously approach it as something to be endured, that they must get right. They then decide that meditation is boring, that they are not good at it, that it is too difficult.
When you slip into the second type of awareness, you realize that these judgments were a reflection of your own headspace. If you can keep an open and curious mind, the practice reflects itself back to you as alive, shifting, juicy, interesting, and fun. The bits were you pull away, were you go spacey, where you feel heavy and dull are not wrong or bad. They are just sensations guiding you to greater openness and depth. You are not looking for a final moment where meditation becomes easy and a big light goes off saying “YOU WON. YOU ARE ENLIGHTENED” (funny enough, you don’t get any such sign in your workout practice either).
So when doing Pilates, or meditation, don’t focus on “getting it right.” Focus on keeping an open, playful awareness that is genuinely interested in what you feel.
I will say that an open and playful awareness has its own difficulties. Mainly, it is hard to stay so CONNECTED for a long time because the sensation is so great and complex and shifting. I often experience a sense of being overwhelmed, and a loss of control. Sometimes, I escape the intensity by going back into my head. But that is what practice is for.
How does this translate into your life in general? Where do you hold tight? Where do you approach your life with play and curiosity? Can you experiment with changing the quality of your concentration?