Meditation Tips for Investment Professionals: Focused Awareness
Meditation provides investors with many benefits. Below are meditation tips from the newly released Meditation Guide for Investment Professionals, the full version of which is available online for CFA Institute members.
In focused awareness meditation, also known as Zen, practitioners concentrate on one object. The object can be the breath, a candle flame, a white wall, the repetition of a word, a series of words — or mantra — etc. When awareness inevitably strays, meditators return their focus to that object.
In previous articles in this series, I shared general meditation tips and described the open-monitoring form of meditation, which hones our natural state of consciousness known as metacognition, or the awareness of awareness itself.
Focused awareness has much in common with open-monitoring, so some confusion is understandable. But these two forms of meditation are really two sides of the same coin. Open-monitoring practitioners notice the thoughts that come into awareness. They do not scrutinize them but let them pass out of awareness. They then return to being open, aware, and non-attached.
Focused awareness meditators have a singular point of attention. They ignore distractions when they arise and refocus back on the object at the center of the meditation.
Focused Awareness Meditation
What It Is: Focused awareness meditation trains a natural capability of mental functioning: top-down control. What is top-down control? It’s our capacity to choose what to think and when to think it. For many of us, top-down control is far removed from our normal, waking state of consciousness wherein random thoughts enter and exit our minds. Some of these thoughts come fully formed, but most are bits and pieces of other thoughts. Focused-awareness seeks to eradicate this noise. In a world that demands intense mental concentration and clarity from investment professionals, focused awareness is critical.
Science has identified four or five major forms of meditation. The fifth form is known as “automatic self-transcending” among its adherents and some researchers. Transcendental meditation is one variety of this form. Like focused awareness, automatic self-transcending requires practitioners to focus on a single thing, in this instance, a word or series of words — a mantra.
Some emerging neuroscientific research demonstrates that automatic self-transcending has distinct effects on practitioners. Specifically, it engages the parts of the brain associated with verbal and motor skills. For our purposes, however, in keeping with other researchers’ work, we classify automatic self-transcending as a sub-form of focused awareness.
Focused awareness meditation relieves stress and improves thinking. Experienced focused awareness meditators have better control over their attention: Their minds wander less, and they can choose when and how to think.
Focused awareness requires the most mental discipline of all the meditation styles. Its practitioners emphasize how critical technique is to achieving the intended goal of disciplined focus.
Below are steps for a generalized focused awareness meditation using breath as the singular object. For convenience, read the steps into your smartphone’s Voice Notes function so you can control the pacing and duration of your meditation.
- Posture is important — keep your back straight.
- Beginners: Sit on a cushion or in a chair.
- If you are sitting on a cushion, use a regular cross-legged position.
- Your knees should be lower than your seat and point slightly downward.
- If you are in a chair, keep your feet flat on the ground and your back off of the chair so that it remains straight.
- Plant your tailbone firmly into the cushion or the chair.
- Stack all of your vertebrae, one on top of the next, working all the way up from your tailbone.
- Tuck your chin in slightly.
- You should be sitting erect as though the crown of your head is pushing upward.
- Close your mouth and touch your tongue to your palate. As you gain experience, you may place your tongue further back, ideally touching your soft palate. But do not strain the tongue.
- Place your hands in your lap, with your left hand in your right hand. Make sure that the thumbs are touching, with your hands forming a circle.
- Relax your shoulder muscles.
- Keep your eyes slightly open and focused on a point roughly three feet in front of you at about a 45-degree angle.
- Do not concentrate your eyes on anything in particular. Instead, relax them into a soft focus.
- To ensure you have the correct posture, move your body from side to side and find the spot where your back feels comfortable.
- Relax and ease into the posture.
- Begin to breathe through your nose.
- Relax your chest so that your abdomen moves as you breathe.
- As you meditate, target your focus point on a spot about two finger widths below your navel. Sometimes this is known as your center of gravity or your core.
- Your breath should be nice and easy.
- Gently exhale all of the air in your lungs.
- As you breathe, imagine your core drawing the breath into itself, as if it is doing all of the work.
- Continue breathing this way.
- Thoughts, emotions, and sensations may interrupt your focus on the breath and your core. Don’t follow them. Let them go. Be objective. Do not let them distract you. Let them pass like a breeze on your face. Return the focus to your breathing.
- Continue for at least 10 minutes.
- When you are ready, come back by fully opening your eyes.
- Practice this routinely.
Can focus on any activity lead to a meditative state? Yes, it can. Many experienced meditators find that certain pursuits that concentrate their attention on something simple — household chores, exercise, or creating art, for example — can also result in meditative states. What distinguishes meditation is that the meditative state is an outgrowth of the accompanying activity. In meditation, the activity is designed specifically to develop awareness and mental focus.
If you have experiences with focused awareness meditation, share them in the comments section below.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
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