Are You Paying Attention?


Just wanted to share a piece I’ve just written for my advanced TT pre-homework.  Enjoy 🙂

‘Listening to the silence’ by J.Krishnamurti is a useful and accessible story which could be used to explain the true meaning of ‘concentration’ (dharana) in yogic practices. When a student begins practicing yoga (and indeed with experienced students), they often intimate that it is not the physical asana practice they find the most challenging, but the sitting in meditation and the times where they are asked to hold a particular asana for an extended period of time. As they struggle to concentrate and as the mind inevitably wanders, so begins a spiral of frustration and disappointment as they try to force their minds to focus solely on what they are doing… the wrong sort of effort.


There is a false understanding in the western world that to ‘meditate’ is to make the mind blank … to mentally switch it off. While the ultimate perfection of samhadi is free from the binds of thoughts such as likes, dislikes … the stories we believe to be true, it is never ‘switched off’, it is the opposite, it is pure awareness of all.


Therefore, in order to become ‘aware’, we must first learn to understand our thoughts and human processes. To do this is not to blank the mind but to do the opposite… to become acutely aware of our thoughts, our human patterns and cultivate the ‘witness within’ then practice ‘non-reaction’.


Krishnamurti begins by urging us to listen to the silence in between the ringing of temple bells. We could guide our students to actively practice this by using chimes or bowls at the beginning of the class and explain that in paying whole attention we are listening to the silences as much as we are listening to the chimes.


The writer then goes on to discuss what it is to ‘pay attention’. He argues that paying attention it is not to withdraw your attention from everything else, as this is in fact exclusion. By making it your intention to drown out all other thoughts, your mind can never be wholly with the object of your meditation, because part of your energy is being used to shut everything else out. There is too much effort in incessantly trying to blank the mind from the desire to look around you, to scratch your nose etc.


This story can be used to help students cultivate ‘effortless effort’ and understand what this means – not mental effort to bullishly attempt to force the mind to concentrate, but the will to observe the experience without reacting – practicing ‘vairagya’, simply “not getting stirred up”.

We can encourage students to accept that there will be inevitable distractions, allow themselves to recognise them, experience them without judgement and then let them go – softly, with love and gently guide themselves back to object of focus, cultivating ahimsa.


By allowing ourselves to listen to and acknowledge thoughts and sensations, we are practicing whole attention. Just like listening to both the silence and the chimes of Krishnamurti’s bell, in meditation we listen not just to the breath, but the thoughts and sensations that come up as we are breathing – this is whole attention, whole concentration.


The author finishes by discussing the cultivation of space in the mind. We can encourage this in class by continually encouraging students to let go of patterns and behaviours that no longer serve them. By clearing space in the mind, we then have space for whole attention – space to listen to the breath, to the music playing in class, to the teachers voice, to the traffic outside the window and be totally, wholly present.

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