Focusing the Mind

excerpted from Inspired by Miracles by Dan Joseph

An early step in the Course's Workbook is the practice of "watching" our thoughts. I find this to be a helpful beginning step in learning to focus the mind.

"Watching our thoughts" means that we simply take an inventory of what is running through our minds. Instead of getting drawn into our thought patterns, we take a few steps back and observe them. 

This sounds simple in theory, but in practice it can be quite a challenge. The process is like sitting through a dramatic movie, all the while reminding ourselves that we are merely watching a film.

Many of us, when we sit down to spend quiet time in meditation or prayer, are swayed by thoughts about our work situation, a relationship issue, a mistake we made earlier in the day, and so forth. We tend to get drawn into these thoughts as if we were watching an engrossing drama. The problem is that this blocks the experience of God's peace – the experience of a miracle.

The Course suggests that we back up a bit, and simply note our thoughts as they move by. We can say to ourselves, "There's a thought about my job. There's another thought about my job. There's a thought about my husband. There's a thought about my car."

As we do this, we place some distance between ourselves and our thoughts. The practice creates a window of opportunity. It allows us to make a change of direction.

The process of watching our thoughts is like moving back a few rows in a theater. When we're up close, the action is all-consuming. But as we slide to the back of the theater, we begin to feel a little less overwhelmed by the swirl of thoughts and emotions.

As we learn to step back from our thoughts and simply observe them, we can then move on to a second step. In the second step, we choose something else to focus on.

The Course encourages us to take a calm, comforting idea and begin to focus our minds on it. The process is like backing up in the theater, and then turning our attention from the movie screen to a lovely flower arrangement in the lobby. This isn't the final step. But it does help us strengthen a change in direction.

Once we back away from our normal thoughts, and begin to focus on a single, peaceful thought, we can then try to move past that single thought into an unstructured experience of peace. That is our real goal – to rest in God's comforting love; to clear a space in our minds for the direct experience of God's peace.

As we feel that sense of love or peace enfold us, we may find that new, inspired ideas come to us. The Course supports this. It doesn't want us to "squash" all thoughts out of our minds. But we do want to step away from our personal habits of thought and make room for God's inspiration.

To borrow a metaphor that others have used, seeking God's peace – or listening for God's guidance – is like learning to feed a bird from our hands. We have to become very gentle and very still.

It may take practice for us to learn how to rest, both quietly and invitingly. Learning to step back from our own jumpy thoughts and orient toward peace can help us move into this state.

back to the excerpts page ->