Friday, January 9, 2015

Dharana, The Practice of Focus, and Food for Thought: Candied Pecans

Part of me wonders if it's the fault of social media, or the lack of good sleep, or the competing demands on my time and attention; whatever the reason, I find it more difficult these days to focus.

It used to be that I could read for hours, becoming completely absorbed in a book.  Now, I notice my attention wandering away.  I get up and take a walk to the kitchen.  If I'm reading online, I scroll down the page to get quickly to the end, and read backwards.  Sometimes even poems seem too difficult.

The other day, I went to yoga for the first time in months, to my favorite teacher's studio.  She has been integrating more meditation classes into the studio offerings for some time now, and using the regular yoga classes to help students improve preparation for meditation; this month, she is focusing her classes on Dhāraṇā, which is the sixth stage/limb of yoga described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Loosely translated, Dhāraṇā means the act of concentrating the mind (joined with the retention of breath) or steadfastness and certainty: in short, focus.  At this point in the practice of meditation, the meditator is still conscious of the act; in later stages, only the consciousness of being/existing and the object of concentration exist, and finally, even the ego-object division dissolves.

While I'm nowhere near achieving the eighth stage of yoga, over time, I've actually gotten pretty good at Dhāraṇā.  I can find a drishti, or a point to focus my gaze.  I can tune out sound, and I can be attentive to my breath.  Sometimes I slip away, but I'm generally able to find my way back.

But somehow, I fail to translate this skill to my own life.  My attention is divided between my phone, which continues to buzz cheerily throughout the day announcing incoming email from students and texts from others, my children's needs and demands, my shopping list, my mental list of chores, my ongoing list of things to put on my agenda at work, the dates of upcoming events and evenings when I'm working late or S. is traveling.  I am a pro at multitasking, but I've become bad at sitting still.

How do you get out of this once you've fallen down the rabbit hole?  Given that none of these things are particularly negotiable, how do we find a drishti in the everyday?

Candied Pecans
Nuts are notorious "brain food."  Granted, adding sugar to them may not be the best way to boost your health, but at least you can tell yourself that you're getting choline, which boosts memory and brain development.  My husband loves this recipe, and always makes a batch around the holidays.  It's one snack that we're sad to see go.

1/2 c. sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1 egg white
4 c. pecan halves

Combine sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl.  In a separate large bowl, whisk egg white until frothy.  Add the pecans to the egg white and toss to coat.  Add the sugar mix and toss thoroughly.  Spread in a single layer on heavy large cookie sheets.  Bake at 350 until toasted and crisp (about 20-30 minutes).  Use a spatula to loosen; cool, and store for less than 2 weeks in an airtight container.

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  1. You are not alone. I am having a really hard time finding drishti in my life right now, too. And quite honestly, all three things - social media, lack of quality sleep, and competing demands on my time - are similar, too. So I can't tell you WHY it is.

    I have this theory we're just in a multitasking time of our lives. Our children are young, we have our own careers, husbands, meals to make, dishes to wash, laundry to do, etc... and our own desires like exercise and writing and reading which are all competing for our attention. There is chatter in my mind ALL THE TIME, and what happens is that by the end of the week I am ragged with trying to keep everything together. And I have no focus.

    It helps to take 5 minutes whenever I feel stressed and snappish and grumpy. I put headphones on or go to a silent space, and I practice focusing on my breath. (I swear, I forget to BREATHE some days!)

    It's really helped me regain some measure of focus during a nutty day. It's not long, but it recenters me so I'm not dragged along by the winds of Responsibility, you know?

    Start small. Sleep more. Breathe. It's about all we can do at this point.

    But no, you are definitely not alone.


  2. I have no idea. But Karen's comment has me thinking. In a society that idolizes multitasking, have we reached a stage in life where we are masters of it? Kinda frightening to think about because it means we need to train ourselves in order to be still and focus. I like the idea of prescribed "time-outs." But it may be a sign that it's time to return to yoga, too.

    Thanks for the self-reflection!

  3. Yum!

    Have you read Brigid Schulte's Overwhelmed? It speaks to this phenomenon, esp. for women.

  4. I've had an idea in my Drafts folder for years now on multitasking and focus. The punchline is that I never returned to finish it, lol.

    You've got me thinking about drishti. Sometimes during a balance pose, the teacher offers closing the eyes as a way to take it up a notch.

    Which I can never do because my drishti is something I grip onto as tightly as a rock-climber does with her fingers. Kinda unyogic-like to be so afraid of letting something go.

    Hmmmmmm....I have no answers for you, but lots more questions for us both.


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