In today’s column we are going to reverse engineer a popular mindfulness practice known as Focused Attention. Doing so will help clarify what is meant by being present, a term familiar to many that can come across as too vague to be helpful. Afterall, what does it mean to be present? Aren’t we always present? Well, yes and no.

If you find practicing mindfulness to be challenging at times — for example, to sit and pay attention to the breath for 10 or 15 minutes — this unpacking of the practice may meaningfully shift your understanding of what the practice is all about. It is an interesting thing that the practice of mindfulness, which asks very little of us (there is no cost, nowhere to go, nothing to read, and nothing to do) can be challenging to implement and sustain. What’s going on here?

Mindfulness and the Focused Attention Practice