Mindfulness and awareness are key. Yet, when I’m hitting a golf ball, I really don’t care about anything else.
Is that a bad thing? Surely being able to focus all my attention on what I’m doing is good.
When I concentrate, and get really absorbed, that leads to bliss. My concentration helps me pay attention to detail.
So, what if I’m over-relying on this one-pointed focus, and don’t know what I’m sacrificing to maintain it?
Concentration vs Awareness
Do people sometimes have to call your name three times before you hear them?
Well, that’s ok. Maybe it’s simply that your concentration is much higher than your awareness, like me.
Think of concentration as being at one end of the attention scale – that pin-pointed focus that doesn’t allow anything else in.
And at the other end of the scale, imagine full peripheral awareness picking up everything going on around you.
Concentration <———–> Awareness
We all have a natural proclivity somewhere on this scale.
Golf is so much more than a score
It was during a golf game that my teacher, Doug Sensei, saw the opportunity to show me how I tend towards concentration over awareness. Again, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with good concentration – it’s just that full absorption on one thing always comes at a cost to something else.
How did he show me? He gave me the challenge to keep count of every shot hit by the other three players, as well as my own shots.
Maybe that doesn’t sound hard to you, but I’ve found that players even lose track of their own score. So, imagine four people hitting shots, sometimes a hundred yards away from each other in front or behind. Anyone might be suddenly in the trees or behind a hill, or be hitting two shots close together.
All of a sudden, I had to look around me constantly – and get out of my body and into my counting head – rather than just concentrate on my game.
And boy did it bug me – until I forgot myself
Why wasn’t it just difficult, why did it really bug me?
Well, because I still basically just wanted to be there to hit good shots, and the awareness challenge was just a distraction from what I wanted. In fact, that challenge was a hugely important lesson for me, and I knew that even then. Yet, somehow, I still wanted to concentrate on “my game” more.
That’s the thing with challenges – it interrupts, well, you. And that’s where the freedom lies.
The freedom of a new perspective
As the challenge progressed, and I began to let go of my attachment to my own game, other things began to grab my attention.
First, I noticed that Martin was getting frustrated, and was over-absorbed in his own game – just like me.
Then, I saw that Stephen wasn’t having as much fun as I was. It reminded me how frustrating it can be as a learner, when you’re mis-hitting every other ball.
And, most importantly, I noticed that my teacher – then 63 – was getting tired. Yet, I’d been in my own little world, doing nothing to support him. And he was meant to be the whole reason I was there!
Suddenly, I wanted to make sure my teacher was drinking enough water. I wanted to help him save energy, by picking up his ball or clubs whenever I could.
I started engaging with Martin – who also tends toward full concentration – to remind him that it’s just a game, and that it’s more fun with others. And I was giving Stephen helpful tips and encouragement.
With this shift, I felt more engaged in the whole experience, instead of playing as if I was alone. And that felt way more generous and alive than focusing on myself. Go figure.
Exercising your peripheral awareness
Since then I’ve realised that full concentration is useful some of the time, and often it comes at the expense of things or people I also care about.
Here are some things you could slot into your everyday life to bring you out of that over-concentrative mind where it doesn’t necessarily always work for you. And show you more colours of the rainbow we call a world.
If you try them out, also take some time to reflect on what difference they bring to your experience.
- Over a day, keep track of something in the room where you work or study that’s outside your normal awareness. It could be how many times someone gets up, or makes a hot drink, or picks up the telephone. Or how often a door opens.
- Over a week, keep track of what colour shirt or blouse someone wears. Or make it two different people, someone’s shirt and someone else’s shoes.
- When walking or driving a route you often use, look for three things you haven’t noticed before. A building you’ve never looked at closely, or some roses in a garden you pass, or a store you’ve never acknowledged before.
There are lots of situations – like when writing these posts – where good concentration helps me. And, I continue to notice times where I’m overly-focused and lose the perspective that comes with having a wider awareness.
After all, even though concentration works for us in many places, do you really want to miss smelling the roses, every time?
Concentration and awareness tend to lead us to better states. Read a blog about what consititutes a good state, anyway?