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Translator: Rhonda Jacobs Reviewer: Peter van de Ven
When I was growing up as a child,
I was teased very often for being so distracted,
teased for not being able to concentrate,
and you know,
had I not been born a few decades ago,
I probably would have been given one of those colorful acronyms
like ADD or ADHD,
branded and probably drugged for not being able to concentrate, right?
It wasn't until I was in my early 20s when I graduated from university
- I grew up in Australia - and I left and went to Hawaii
where I joined my guru's monastery,
it was a cloistered, traditional Hindu monastery,
where he taught me how to concentrate.
And that's what I want you to keep in mind,
this concept of being taught how to concentrate.
It's in my humble opinion that most people can't concentrate today,
for two reasons.
One is, we're never taught how to concentrate;
and second is, we don't practice concentration.
So, how can you do something if you're never taught how to do it?
And how can you be good at something if you don't practice it?
Let's take a little survey here.
How many of you here in the audience, growing up in school,
were formally taught how to concentrate?
Can we have a show of hands?
Like, formal training in concentration,
in school, like classes every week.
Okay, one person... two people in this entire audience.
So, here's a question for you:
How many of you in this room here, growing up, were told to concentrate?
Isn't that amazing?
People tell us to concentrate, but they don't tell us how to.
And I got told to concentrate all the time.
"Dandapani, concentrate on eating your food."
"Dandapani, concentrate on doing your homework."
Anybody want to show me how to do it?
How many of you here have children?
Okay, how many of you tell your children to concentrate?
Do you show them how to?
No, right? And then you wonder why they can't concentrate.
You can't expect somebody to do something if you don't teach them how to do it.
And then if they want to be good at it, they have to practice it, right?
So, if I wanted to play for the Chicago Bulls
or dance with the San Francisco Ballet company -
you know, I ask people this question all the time in my talks, I ask them:
How many hours a day should I practice?
General answer's usually about eight hours a day, six days a week.
And then I ask them, so after six months, can I play for the Bulls?
The answer's usually no.
After a year?
But I'd be better at basketball, right?
I'd be a better ballet dancer.
So, imagine if you practice distraction eight hours a day, six days a week,
what would you be good at after six months?
After a year?
You'd be really good at distraction.
After a year and a half?
You'd be an expert at distraction,
you'd write the New York Times bestseller on distraction.
TEDx would invite you to come and give a keynote on distraction.
You'd get on stage, you'd be so distracted,
you'd forget what you were supposed to talk about.
That's how good you are.
But the truth is,
we don't practice distraction eight hours a day, six days a week.
The truth is, we probably practice it
more like 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
The average person sleeps about seven to eight hours,
just say, roughly, so we're awake for about 16 hours of the day.
Let's just say on the average, we're practicing it 13 hours a day,
seven days a week, distraction.
And then you wonder why you're so good at it.
That's the law of practice.
The law of practice is that we become good at whatever it is we practice.
Whether it's positive or negative, it doesn't matter.
If you practice something over and over and over again,
you become really good at it.
And that's why people are so good at distraction,
because it's what they practice.
Why aren't people good at concentration?
Because they're never taught it, and they never practice it.
They don't need to be drugged.
They just need to be taught how to do it.
Children don't need to be drugged.
They just need to be taught how to concentrate.
Then they need to practice it, just like anything else,
to become a good tennis player, to become a good dancer,
a performer,
Practice, practice, practice.
And then people say things like
technology are great distractors, right?
"Oh, I have this thing, so distracting, my smartphone."
The internet.
Are they distractors?
I'd like to say no, first, and then yes.
But mostly no.
Why? Let me tell you a story.
When I left Australia after university and went to Hawaii to be a monk,
it was a very traditional monastery
so when you join the monastery like the one I did,
you literally have to give everything up:
your family, your friends, everyone you know,
everything you owned.
And when you got to the monastery, you're given a set of robes,
a set of beads,
and a MacBook Pro laptop.
Yes, I did say a Mac.
So, every monk got a Mac,
and when iPhones came out, we had an iPhone as well.
And it's really interesting-
it's always fascinating to me to see people's reactions
when I tell them about monks with Macs.
You know, and I remember this lady once, that came to visit the monastery,
and she asked me a question, and I said to her,
"Why don't you send me an e-mail,
and I could e-mail you back a response my teacher wrote up,
and it will give you some nice insights."
She looked at me kind of strangely and finally asked,
"Is it okay for monks to use e-mail?"
I said, "Of course it's okay for monks to use e-mail,
as long as there are no attachments."
Some people are just getting it now.
So, technology in itself is not a bad thing.
It's actually a beautiful thing, as long as we're in charge of it.
But if every time your iPhone beeps or makes a sound and you turn to it,
and you go, "Yes, master. How can I serve you today?"
then you live in that world of distraction.
It's training you to be distracted.
But if you actually use technology, then technology is not a bad thing.
When I said yes, earlier, that technology can be distracting,
there are some aspects of technology that can be distracting.
For example on the Mac you have notifications that drop down,
but that's as easy as clicking on it and turning it off,
turning off those notifications and not responding
but choosing what you want to engage with.
So, technology in itself is not a bad thing.
The question is, do we choose to engage in it or not?
So, how do we become good at concentrating?
We start by understanding the mind.
Right? All of us have a mind.
It's the most powerful tool in the world.
It built a smartphone, it's put machines that drive itself on Mars.
Yet there's no manual for the mind, right?
When was the last time you saw a manual for the mind?
Yet you buy a point-and-shoot camera whose only purpose and duty
is to point and shoot; it comes with a 100-page manual.
Yet we have the most complex tool in the world, our mind,
and there's no manual.
So, the first thing I learnt when I went to the monastery
was to learn how the mind works.
Because once you know how the mind works, you can control it,
and once you can control it, you can focus it.
You can't focus or concentrate something you don't understand.
So, how does the mind work?
From the monk's perspective, from the monk's experience of the mind,
there are two things that you need to understand.
One is there's awareness;
and one is the mind.
I'll take a few moments to explain this to you
and share what they are.
Imagine awareness as a glowing ball of light,
like an orb that can float around.
Okay? So, that's awareness.
Now imagine your mind as a vast space,
a vast area with many different sections within it.
One area of the mind is anger, jealousy, food, sex,
happiness, joy, science, art.
And this glowing ball of light called awareness
can travel within the mind,
and it can go to any area of the mind it wants to go to.
And when it goes to a particular area of the mind,
it lights up that area.
When it lights up that area of the mind, you become conscious of it.
So, give you an example.
Your friend invites you to go see a movie, for example:
"Hey Doug, do you want to go see Mission Impossible 16?"
"Sure, let's go."
Okay, so you go to the theater, you sit down, the lights are all on,
you're chatting with your friend, the lights dim, the movie starts.
And if it's a really great director or producer,
he or she can take your awareness
to any area of the mind they want you to go to, right?
They can take you to a sad area of the mind,
to a happy area of the mind,
the movie can get really exciting, thrilling, suspenseful, scary.
And 90 minutes later, you see two words on the screen,
and it says, "The End."
And you turn to your friend and you go, like, "Wow, that was an amazing movie."
But you paid $13 or $14 or $15, or whatever it is,
to allow the director to take your awareness
to different areas of the mind.
And this happens on a daily basis -
each day we allow someone or something throughout the day
to take our awareness from one area of the mind to another.
When we allow a person or something to do that,
we're being distracted.
The art of concentration is the art of keeping awareness,
that ball of light, on one thing for an extended period of time.
Every time that ball of light drifts away, we bring it back.
It drifts away again, we bring it back.
So, that's the theory, you have awareness, and you have the mind.
You are not the mind - when people say, 'My mind wanders all the time,'
technically, that's a false statement.
What wanders is your awareness; your awareness is moving within your mind.
So, that's the theory of it.
So, let's do a simple, little practical exercise
to see if this actually works or it's just some monk Voodoo talk, okay?
For that, I need audience participation.
I need all of you to sit up straight in your chair, okay?
If you have anything in your lap or hand, just place it down on the ground.
Sit up straight in your chair with your spine straight.
If you're leaning back, just sit forward a little bit.
I want you to close your eyes,
take a slow, deep breath in,
and I want you to become aware of the room,
become aware of the chair that you're sitting on,
become aware of any sounds that you might hear,
the sound of my voice,
the humming of the projector or air conditioning.
Now I want you to become aware of the most recent wedding that you attended.
Do you remember whose wedding it was?
Who was getting married?
Did you approve of the marriage?
Try and think everything you can about the wedding.
Did you go by yourself?
Did you go with your family?
Was it a large wedding, hundreds of people,
or was it small and intimate with maybe 20-30 people?
How was the food? Was it good?
Was there alcohol? Did you drink a lot?
Do you even remember how much you drank?
Do you remember what the bride was wearing?
Did she make a good choice?
Now I want you to remember the most recent holiday that you went on,
the most recent vacation that you went on.
Do you remember where it was?
And what kind of vacation was it anyway?
Was it a yoga retreat? Was it a wellness trip?
Was it educational? Was it adventure?
How long did you go for?
What was the weather like over there?
Try and think everything you can about this vacation.
Did you spend a lot of money?
How was the food?
Spicy? Bland? Bad?
Did you get sick eating the food?
Now your eyes are still closed,
I want you to become aware of the room again.
Become aware of the chair that you're sitting on,
the sound of my voice,
humming of the air conditioner or projector.
Now slowly open your eyes and settle back in your seats again.
Okay, that was a very simple exercise to prove two things to you.
One is, there's a clear separation between awareness and the mind;
and second is, you can actually take your awareness
and move it to any area of the mind that you want it to go to,
because you just allowed me to do that.
I took your awareness from this room,
becoming aware of this chair that you're sitting on,
the sound of my voice, the air conditioning, the projector,
and you went to the wedding area of the mind,
and the longer you stayed there, the more you thought about the wedding.
How do I know you were thinking about it?
Because I had my eyes open and when I asked you a question like
"Did the bride make a bad choice?"
some of you went, like, mm-yeah,
with a dress, yes!
So, I knew you were thinking about the wedding, right?
And then you went from the wedding area of the mind,
and you traveled all the way to the vacation area,
and you stayed there,
and while in the vacation area, you weren't thinking about the wedding
or about the room.
And then you went from the vacation area of the mind back to the room again,
and I made you think about the chair, the room,
and you weren't thinking about the wedding or the vacation then.
And this is what happens all day.
We allow people and things around us to take our awareness
from one area of the mind to another, all day long.
From the time we wake up, and therefore we become distracted.
To be concentrated is to be able to keep your awareness
on one thing for an extended period of time.
How do we practice this?
We practice this by doing one thing at a time throughout the day.
What's the best way to develop concentration?
The best way to develop concentration
is to bring the practice into our everyday life.
Look at opportunities throughout your day.
In your average day, ask yourself,
what's a great opportunity to practice concentration?
How many of you have a spouse or partner that you live with?
Quite a few of you.
Every time you speak with your spouse or your partner,
keep that ball of light, that awareness on that person.
It drifts away; bring it back.
It drifts away; bring it back.
The more you practice this,
the more you become better at concentration.
Give her or him your undivided attention.
So, if you speak to your spouse for two hours a day,
what a great opportunity to practice concentration.
Every time you speak with your child, practice concentration.
Parents come up to me all the time and say,
"Dandapani, how can I teach my children to concentrate?"
Very easy: you learn to concentrate first.
You know, there's an old saying that goes: Monkey sees, monkey do? You know?
And if you can't concentrate,
you can't expect your child to concentrate.
And if you don't teach your children how to concentrate,
how can they possibly learn how to concentrate?
They can't.
The benefits of concentration are endless, right?
When you're able to concentrate,
you're able to focus all your energy into a single given point.
Life is a manifestation of where your energy's flowing.
And if you can't concentrate your energy,
the things you want to manifest in your life becomes very challenging.
So, learn to concentrate by doing one thing at a time.
Bring this practice into everything that you do throughout the day.
Make it a part of your life.
Practice, practice, practice.
Keep bringing awareness back,
and keep it focused on one thing at a time.
Share this knowledge with your children.
Be an example for them so they can grow up.
Let's stop drugging our children,
and solve the simple problem by teaching them how to concentrate
and helping them to practice concentration.
Be unwavering in your focus.
Proceed with confidence
because life is meant to be lived joyously.
And it all begins by learning how to concentrate,
and staying focused.
Thank you very much everyone.
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Unwavering Focus | Dandapani | TEDxReno

979 Folder Collection
林雲淡 published on February 8, 2019
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