The Flighty Nature of Attention

Meditation teacher Will Kabat-Zinn explores how meditation allows us to stumble upon something we've always wanted: a settled, stable mind in the midst of the chaos of life. We live at the mercy of our thoughts and thought patterns, he says, and as we begin to cultivate attention—which requires us to move counter to much of the mainstream direction of our society and economy—we gain a little stability.

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Many people wonder, “What exactly do you do on a meditation retreat?” It’s pretty simple. Let me give you a basic description: You decide to take a few days off to meditate with some other people. On day one, you sit and pay attention to your body and breath for 30 or 45 minutes. Then you walk back and forth, back and forth. When it’s time to eat, you eat in silence. Then, you sit and pay attention to your body and your breath and walk around some more, eat in silence, and so forth and so on. You do that day in, day out. It’s a great time. You really should try it.

OK, I’ll admit: When I put it that way, it’s pretty hard to sell this stuff. It doesn’t exactly sound like a day at the spa, yet so many people who try it keep coming back. Why is that?

If you talk to people at a retreat, they often say things like, “I just sit here struggling to be present. I feel one breath, then my mind is all over the place for I don’t know how long, and then I come back, occasionally. I have…

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About the author

Will Kabat-Zinn

Will Kabat-Zinn has taught mindfulness and meditation to diverse populations—including neuroscientists, incarcerated youth, and technology leaders. He leads retreats regularly at Spirit Rock and at meditation centers around the country.

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