Our meditation teachers might ask us to ‘anchor’ our attention on the breath.
We do this by setting this behaviour as an intention for the meditation session. We start very deliberately, with some determination that the mind should rest on the breath. Then, each time we notice that the mind has become distracted, we gently return the attention back to the breath. We do this as many times as we forget and remember.
Every time we catch our mind drifting, and return it to our chosen anchor, our mindfulness capacity increases. We strengthen our ability to pay attention, attend for longer durations, bring the attention back more often and bring the attention back more quickly.
The mind is a virtual space, in which almost anything can happen. Since it’s not limited to what’s actually happening in the senses, it can drift in any direction and go to any place. The mind slipping off to somewhere else is very subtle. Having a pre-decided anchor is a way for us to notice that the mind has drifted.
Knowing beforehand where we will return the attention to also means that we are not distracted by having to decide where to put it each time.
Any activity that requires our attention will be supercharged by this capacity for mindfulness.
The purpose of our meditation might be simply to reduce distraction and rumination, so we can function with less mental agitation. Stability itself can be soothing, giving us the sensation of being centred rather than scattered.
If our meditation session has some additional purpose, such as the body scan, then we can spend more time benefiting from the body scan. We acquire more information, and apply any guidance more diligently.
The breath isn’t the only anchor we can choose, but it is the most commonly useful.