I remember basic training back in 1968 when my drill sergeant would get in the face of anyone who was out of step when marching. “Pull your head out!” he would yell. He never had to yell at me because yelling at others affected me, alerting me to sustain attention to my stride.
If you have ADHD, you have trouble pulling your head out–unplugging from whatever has hold of your attention. You get distracted because you have trouble inhibiting your attention, just as hyperactive types have trouble inhibiting action. When you use a camera, you don’t just click the button randomly; you point your lens toward something, and you zoom in or out.
We’ve all been told in so many words to pull our heads out. So, what is the opposite of having your attention locked up, mindlessly stuck on whatever is on the radar in the moment? We hardly know what open awareness is because we spend little time there.
I just completed a 3-day meditation retreat where I watched my brain for hours as it wanted to lock in on a thought and then follow a chain of related thoughts. Try watching your brain that long without getting bored! My job was to recognize what I was doing and then return to silence without judgment. My brain wanted to chase every thought, including thoughts about chasing thoughts! But once the wheels slowed down, my awareness opened up. Eventually, I could observe emotions, sensations, sounds, and even the emergence of a thought without thinking and analyzing the observations. Achieving simple awareness is like emptying a glass so there is room to put something fresh in it.
Sustaining awareness to fleeting thoughts, feelings, sensations, and sounds, without attaching to any of them, takes a lot of practice. I attribute the difficulty I had at the retreat to having just spent two years writing a book. Writing a book-length manuscript requires extraordinary focus. It has taken me months to pull my head out of that hyper-focused state, and my brain is still inclined to rebound back into it.
You don’t have to attend a meditation retreat to pull your head out, although the practice of meditation makes it a little easier. You can turn off devices, sit on your porch without your cell phone or laptop, get away from noise, and return to silence as many times as it takes to experience silence as a compassionate friend. Returning to silence gets you to the “observation deck” where you can see your inner and outer worlds more clearly–what your brain is doing and how the world around you appears.
A wise old meditation teacher often said to his students, “Just notice.”