As most readers of this blog know, I have long been trumping the importance of mindfulness in helping to resolve a number of sexual difficulties. For most, it’s not easy to put a mindfulness or meditation practice into effect because there are so many obstacles and distractions that get in the way during the course of our busy lives. In addition, many people give up prematurely because taking out some time throughout the day to put a meditation practice into place feels like hard work, without any concrete results or metrics to be able to point to at the very beginning. Indeed, it takes a while to see specific results and by that time, many people have already moved on. It is well known by meditation teachers that drop out rates (of sticking with it long-term) are quite high.
As a result, I am constantly scouring for more resources that would allow my clients to experience a more seamless introduction to mindfulness. In this article, I’m going to introduce a few basic tools and then I want to explain in a little more detail what the quality of our focus and awareness specifically has to do with sexuality. I have learned that if my clients better understand the how and why, it helps them to dive in with a renewed sense of purpose.
One of the best tools out there is a completely free app called Headspace. It was developed by a former Tibetan monk, Andy Puddicombe, and takes the end user through a guided 10 minute meditation each day. It is both sequential (it builds on the previous day) and motivating (Andy’s voice is both upbeat and soothing), so users have the feeling of having the personal touch of individual guidance. Like I said, the app is completely free, as are the first 10 days of sessions, but then for a nominal fee, individuals have the choice of paying for more content that would guide them through a whole year’s worth of sequential training
In my experience, some people really take well to this app, while others still struggle to stay motivated. For those who specifically need more immediate feedback and metrics to stay on point, I recommend the intervention of new technology, specifically an EEG (electroencephalogram) headband called Muse. This headband, when connected to its accompanying meditation app, records brainwaves while the user meditates and gives instantaneous feedback when the mind starts to experience tension by producing the noise of howling winds and choppy waves. While the mind is calm, the user hears the sounds of a soft breeze, rolling waves, and chirping birds. At the end of the exercise, users can see the results of their session, specifically what percentage was spent calm vs anxious. After about a week of meditation, I was able to hit 95%, and then 98% calm, but then again I have a long history of keeping to a meditation practice. Check out this article here, in which a reviewer went from 31% to 89% calm within 2 weeks. Muse will set you back $300, but I think it’s an excellent tool for those who need more feedback and metrics to stay consistent. The one thing about Muse, though is that it doesn’t train you to practice mindfulness, but rather more of a focused meditation, but I would still highly recommend it.
Now let’s get to the main item I want to discuss– types of focus and awareness. While researching EEG technology, I discovered the work of Les Fehmi, a pioneering psychologist in the area of neurofeedback. He was conducting research on techniques to stimulate the production of alpha waves (the kind of electrical activity generated by the brain when relaxed) and stumbled upon a certain state of consciousness that immediately sent the brain into alpha wave production, which he termed “open focus.” To grasp the concept of open focus, we first understand the four kinds of focus that Dr. Fehmi uncovered. These types of focus exist on two different continuums and when combined, create a type of grid consisting of four distinct awareness states. You’ll see what I mean shortly.
The first continuum of focus types is narrow vs diffuse. When we are in narrow focus, our attention is placed on small details, while in diffuse focus, we are able to soak in a broader spectrum of senses. The best way to understand this is to visualize the difference between a zoom and wide angle camera lens. While looking through a zoom lens, we see clear details of the object of our attention, but everything else in the background is blurry and obscure. While peeking through a wide angle lens, both foreground and background are clearly visible, although we are not seeing depth of field.
Next we have objective vs immersed focus. While in objective focus, we are outside of the object, we are analyzing it like a specimen that is foreign to us, outside of our subjective experience. While immersed, we are inside of the experience, feeling merged or “at one” with the subject of our awareness. So in summary, narrow vs diffuse can be better understood as zoom vs wide angle, while objective vs immersed is more outside of vs merged with.
By combining these four focus types into a grid, we get four categories of awareness: narrow objective, narrow immersed, diffuse objective and diffuse immersed. In brief, narrow objective is when we are narrowly focused on some small detail or item of study (for example, studying for a test); narrow immersed is when we are still focused on something specific but we feel more immersed rather than separate from the object of focus (riding a bike); diffuse objective is when we are more holistically focused on an object (observing a painting or panorama); and finally diffuse immersed is when we are completely engaged with all of our senses (orgasm, religious ecstasy, etc.)
Dr. Fehmi argues that most of our waking lives we are stuck in narrow objective. Indeed, we are almost trained that way by society– go to school, study for tests, specialize in a certain subject area, attend to specific performance metrics, etc. This is where we also get stuck in a number of maladies, specifically somatic and anxiety related complaints. When we are trained to go through our lives in narrow objective focus, it is hard to switch that off. And one of the areas that we get the most stuck in is the area of sexuality. Inevitably, when someone is struggling with some performance issue, whether it is rapid ejaculation or ED, that individual is approaching sex from a narrow objective focus. Specifically, that individual, while engaging or thinking about sex, is preoccupied with a narrow set of issues (erections for example) and spectating (observing in a detached manner) one’s performance while having sex. It’s a recipe for disaster.
One of the things I train my clients to do is to shift their focus of awareness while being sexual. Instead of narrowly focusing on one’s genitals, I give them exercises to expand their focus to the entire range of sexual activities. Instead of spectating in objective focus, I provide graded exercises to transition to a more immersed mode of staying with attention to all of one’s senses. In short, what I’ve been doing all along, without even being aware of Les Fehmi’s work is to help my clients switch from a narrow objective focus that distances them from connecting to their sexual selves to a more diffuse immersed focus that allows them to merge more fully with their entire spectrum of sensations.
I think I’ve gone long enough and if anyone is particularly interested in learning more about Dr. Fehmi’s work and Open Focus, feel free to shoot me an email, but in summation, the ability to experience sexual pleasure has a lot more to do with the nature of our focus and awareness than most realize. The skills of shifting our focus can be accentuated through mindfulness practice and there are a variety of tools to help out even the most resistant of individuals.