The most focused my mind has ever been was the moment I unloaded 6 bullets from a .38 revolver in rapid succession. It was also the only time I’ve ever fired a gun — Howard Thompson the A&R man who signed my band The Rake’s Progress years ago had taken us to a gun club 3 basements below a non-descript building in Tribeca, NYC, for a little “bonding exercise.”
The focus came from being forced to be focused. No other thoughts in the mind but handling the deadly firearm. Anything less could lead to tragic results.
One of the reasons busy people love to play golf is it forces you to block out all the noise in your head and focus 100% on the task at hand. When you’re preparing to take a swing in golf, anything less than 100% focus leads to failure.
Personally, I transition daily from the early morning cacophony of my 2 small children to the intensity of a long and challenging work day. I need that transition time to clear my head, to quiet the noise, to hit the “reset” button so-to-speak. For this, I ride my bicycle through the streets of San Francisco.
My morning bike ride requires 100% focus. SF might be “bike friendly” but it is still a dangerous place to ride. I won’t get into the details, but let’s just say anything less than 100% focus could be fatal. Any mental drifting off needs to be identified and stopped immediately.
It’s really not that different from the concept of meditation. In most meditation traditions I’m aware of, the idea is to block out all thoughts and just be present. There are myriad devices to achieve that, whether focusing on the breath, repeating a mantra . . .
My mantra when I ride my bike is “keep your mind in the ride.”
It’s a daily challenge to maintain that focus, but the benefits are twofold:
1) I get to my destination intact
2) I get to my destination with a clear, focused mind
That bike ride FORCES me to stop the rest of the noise in my head. It hits the reset button, so to speak. When I get to my office, I get to start with a clean slate.
If riding your bike to work is a practical option for you, I highly recommend you try it. If not, a “walking meditation” works really well. Get off the train/bus a stop early and walk the last 15 minutes to work. Or figure out some other way to get 15 minutes of time before you start your work day. Leave the phone behind. Be outside and focus on your senses, what you see, smell, hear. Be 100% “offline.”
I once got to do a brief walking meditation with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, right before he gave a talk in NYC many years ago. Later that evening I shook hands with Rudy Giuliani and the next day found myself being wheeled on a gurney at high speed into an operating room in order to receive an emergency appendectomy. The world is a funny place.