Mindfulness vs. Concentration

Mindfulness vs Concentration

“Let the past be content with itself, for man needs forgetfulness as well as memory” 
James StephensIrish Fairy Tales

Focus, Focus, Focus

I am absolutely convinced that my cell phone has feet!  Because, every time I look for it, it is hiding in a new place.  When Jim called my number this morning to help me find my missing phone, I heard it ringing from under our bed!  What other explanation is there for my phone never being where I think I left it?   I’m kidding of course, but many of us who are over sixty know this issue well.   It was hard enough to focus our attention when we were younger and in the workplace.  It seems even harder now that we are retired and dealing with our changing bodies, minds, and lifestyles.  Do any of the following sound familiar to you?

“Where are my keys?”

“I forgot to get milk when I was at the grocery store and that’s why I went!”

“What was that person’s name we just met?”

These memory problems happen because we lose attention and get distracted. And they happen to young people as well as older people.  However, as we get older, it is easier to get distracted. It is as if we get “attention deficit disorder (ADD)” as we age.  A brain-scan study at the University of Toronto found that older people, compared to young adults, have decreased brain activity in brain areas that enable concentration.  This means that older brains can’t focus well, because the parts of the brain that enable concentration don’t get active enough.  (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201101/attention-deficit-can-come-old-age)


The good news is that we can improve our ability to concentration.  Even after sixty, our brains are plastic and ca be re-trained to filter out extraneous stimuli.  One study showed that playing a brain training video game for a month can rejuvenate the multitasking abilities of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s.  “After training, they improved their multitasking beyond the level of 20-year-olds,” says Adam Gazzaley, one of the study’s authors and a brain scientist at the University of California, San Francisco.  Other ways to improve your concentration include reading difficult books and solving complex math problems.  (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/09/10/218892225/multitasking-after-60-video-game-boosts-focus-mental-agility)


Mindfulness is a broader, larger ability than concentration.  I love the following metaphor:

If you have focused the mind on a stone, concentration will see only the stone. Mindfulness stands back from this process, aware of the stone, aware of the concentration focusing on the stone, aware of the intensity of that focus and instantly aware of the shift of attention when concentration is distracted. It is mindfulness which notices the distraction which has occurred, and it is mindfulness which redirects the attention to the stone.  http://www.vipassana.com/meditation/mindfulness_in_plain_english_16.php

Concentration is essentially focusing the mind, like a laser beam.  But, our concentration doesn’t involve understanding what we are focusing on.  When we are mindful, we examine our values, our thoughts, our feelings and our beliefs.  That process gives us choice and leads us toward freedom.  I created the following chart to help me distinguish between concentration and mindfulness.  I am grateful to Bhante Gunaretana who wrote about these concepts.  (www.vipisanna.com/meditation/mindfulness_in_plain_englissh)


  • Single minded
  • Answers the “What?”
  • Sharp focus on fixed object
  • Eliminates physical distractions
  • May or may not be free from greed, harm, anger or delusions
  • Short-lived
  • Is a tool that is useful to achieve your goals
  • Cannot give you a perspective on yourself
  • Works with mindfulness to penetrate your “self”


  • Broad-minded
  • Answers the “why” and “how”
  • Flows along with change instead of sharp focus
  • Involves persistence and gentleness
  • Will illuminate our basic human condition – the nature of our suffering
  • Observes what Buddhists call the “five hindrances:” sensual pleasure, hatred, mental lethargy, restlessness, and mental vacillation.
  • Noticing and observing
  • Nonegoistic alertness
  • Accepting of ourselves, as we are
  • More difficult to achieve than concentration
  • Works with concentration during meditation

The following anonymous internet post has gone viral – probably because way too many of us can relate!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


Recently, I was diagnosed with A.A.A.D.D. –

Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder.

This is how it manifests:

I decide to water my garden.

As I turn on the hose in the driveway,

I look over at my car and decide it needs washing.

s I start toward the garage,

I notice mail on the porch table that

I brought up from the mail box earlier.

I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car.

I lay my car keys on the table,

put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table,

and notice that the can is full.

So, I decide to put the bills

Back on the table and take out the garbage first.

But then I think,

since I’m going to be near the mailbox

when I take out the garbage anyway,

I may as well pay the bills first.

I take my check book off the table,

and see that there is only one check left.

My extra checks are in my desk in the study,

so I go inside the house to my desk where

I find the

can of Pepsi I’d been drinking.

I’m going to look for my checks,

but first I need to push the Pepsi aside

so that I don’t accidentally knock it over.

The Pepsi is getting warm,

and I decide to put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold.

As I head toward the kitchen with the Pepsi,

a vase of flowers on the counter

catches my eye–they need water.

I put the Pepsi on the counter and

discover my reading glasses that

I’ve been searching for all morning.

I decide I better put them back on my desk,

but first I’m going to water the flowers.

I set the glasses back down on the counter,

fill a container with water and suddenly spot the TV remote.

Someone left it on the kitchen table.

omeone left it on the kitchen table.

I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV,

I’ll be looking for the remote,

but I won’t remember that it’s on the kitchen table,

so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs,

but first I’ll water the flowers.

I pour some water in the flowers,

but quite a bit of it spills on the floor.

So, I set the remote back on the table,

get some towels and wipe up the spill.

Then, I head down the hall trying to

remember what I was planning to do.

At the end of the day:

the car isn’t washed

the bills aren’t paid

there is a warm can of

Pepsi sitting on the counter

the flowers don’t have enough water,

there is still only 1 check in my check book,

I can’t find the remote,

I can’t find my glasses,

and I don’t remember what I did with the car keys.

Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today,

’m really baffled because I know I was busy all the damn day,

and I’m really tired.

I realize this is a serious problem,

and I’ll try to get some help for it,

but first I’ll check my e-mail….

Do me a favor.

Forward this message to everyone you know,

because I don’t remember who the hell I’ve sent it to.

Don’t laugh — if this isn’t you yet, your day is coming!!




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