STQI Downtown Toronto School

The Shaolin Virtue of Focus

Ancient Shaolin wisdom teaches us to follow 6 key virtues in our lives as a means to achieve peace in our hearts.  In this article we explore the Shaolin Virtue of Focus.

What is focus?
If we look up the English dictionary for the meaning of focus we get something like “to concentrate as in to focus one’s thoughts”.  This basically means if you are doing something and you want to focus on it, you would only think about that.  Focus on your homework, focus on your work, focus on your house chores, etc.

The Shaolin Virtue of Focus extends this meaning considerably to include purpose, simplicity, self-discovery, and clarity:

Purpose: By focusing one’s mind, one puts more thought energy into a specific task.   If you are worrying and stressing about a problem, how can you effectively solve an important problem?  Your mental energy would be split and prevent you from reaching a solution.  Therefore focusing your mind must have purpose and one must not loose sight of that purpose.

Simplicity: As we get older we develop more complex minds and develop more complex thoughts.  In fact many of us likely suffer from stress and anxiety due to rampant thoughts and unfulfilled needs and wants.  Is a higher paying career more important or is a happy family more important?   Are higher grades more important or is a more diversified skill set more important?  Trying to have both could lead to a complicated path of suffering.  Practicing simplicity allows one to clear the head and utilize one’s energy on what actually is important and thereby improve ones focus.

Clarity: By clarity we mean clarity of thought and perceptions.  This means your current perceptions and understanding of things do not conflict with one another and with reality, and are not affected by emotion.  If you declare yourself to be a vegetarian but you ate meat unknowingly, are you still vegetarian?  Or what if you were starving last week and had not much choice but to eat some meat – are you still a vegetarian?  Clarity is about understanding and being clear about who you are, how your thoughts and perceptions work, and how to allow your reality to flow with time.

Self-Discovery: Most of us grow up in what is called a desire-based society which means the systems of government, education, and commerce for example are all designed to appease one’s desire.  As a result our mental energy is often spent on the external environment – how do I make more money to buy more comfort or entertainment?  How do I make my parents or loved ones happy?  How do I get good grades so I can get a good job?  The Shaolin Virtue of Focus shifts the meaning of focus to yourself and the understanding yourself.  Why do I feel this way?  Why do I want that?  Do I really need that?  Understanding oneself is a path of self-discovery and purpose.

How does one improve focus?
The first thing to realize is that focus is a skill.  The more you practice focus the better you get at it.  Ironically, the Shaolin way to improve focus is through meditation where one attempts to focus on nothing at all…  wait, what?!

Lets clarify this point!  At the ‘highest’ levels of meditation practice, one can relieve the mind of all thoughts so that sensory information such as sounds and light, as well as thoughts or internal signals are not processed or interpreted by the conscious mind.  To achieve that level of practice one must first learn to focus the mind by focusing on just one thing.  In Shaolin sitting meditation we practice focusing on counting the breath until we are able to drop the daily and recent thoughts or concerns.  Eventually our focused energy drops altogether so that our minds achieve a blissful resting state.

If you would like to practice the Shaolin Virtue of Focus, we encourage you to sign up for our free meditation sessions that are scheduled every two months.  There happens to be one next Sunday and you can scroll down this newsletter for more information.

Peace in the Heart through Focus
The Shaolin Virtue of Focus is about mental strength and is the primary key to achieving peace in the heart.  One does not get swayed by emotion and has a great understanding of the emotional states within.  Knowledge can extend wisdom but only experience can lead to wisdom.  Thus with practice and time can one achieve greater wisdom.