Open Your Focus


Many attention practices teach you to narrow your attention, instructing you to focus on and repeat specific words (a mantra), or to look only at a small spot on the wall. But as I’ve been saying, it’s just as important to broaden your attention. One practice I rather like is called Open Focus. In this approach you consider entire sets of events at once (you have to soften the focus on any particular event to do this). The set can be composed of people, objects, sequences of thoughts, notes in music-really anything. Once you have a set you are interested in, focus on the physical or temporal space between the events: the physical space between objects, for example, or the empty gaps between thoughts or notes.

To clarify how to do this: look at the room you are in, focusing sequentially on specific objects. Then soften the focus on any particular object, and focus on the relationship (the “space”) between most or all of the objects in the room. With a few minutes’ practice of alternating between these two sets you’ll sense you’re using different attentional strategies. You can feel a softening and expansion of your attention as you adopt an open focus, and then a sharpening and narrowing as you focus on each particular object. A good way to practice this in daily life is during work meetings. In the next meeting you are in, see if you can flip back and forth between focusing on a specific speaker or listener and then on all the attendees at once.