Appearances can be deceptive. Sitting meditation looks like restfully doing nothing at all. Meditation is, however, a task of extreme difficulty, and chances are the sitter is not performing well. Meditation’s task is paying attention.

All forms of meditation involve attention focused on various things (mantras, movements, breaths, etc.). Good attention is necessary for success. Most meditation benefits follow from enhanced awareness attention creates. Enlightenment itself is nothing apart from full awareness – awareness deep enough to bring union or oneness when sharp attention penetrates the barrier.

Famed psychologist William James said that nothing would be more to our benefit than enhanced power of attention. He observed that attention can be voluntarily sustained for only a few seconds. “Attention deficit,” it seems, is everyone’s problem. We can sit down to meditate determined to attend and lose ourselves in daydreams within minutes.

Thus many meditate but enlightenment is rare. The odds are against high achievement. Buddhist tradition has sobering words: “Just sit…and eventually, maybe after many lifetimes, you will come upon the truth.” Zen too tempers optimism: “After twenty years you can finally say you have begun to learn how to sit…Many will take even longer.” Poor prospects hold for traditional methods, but the odds change when meditation is understood and reinvented from a scientific perspective. Bring to bear what psychology knows of skill learning and a highly efficient, self-guiding exercise emerges.

The key element introduced is feedback. Also known as knowledge of results, feedback is necessary for learning. In meditation, feedback or confirmation of attention -- the very thing we need, is what traditional methods lack. Through lack of feedback, we lose attention without knowing we have lost it. We discover we’ve lost attention only when we awaken later from a daydream. Because attention slips away unseen, it is lost easily, even with the best intentions.

Feedback solves the problem and it is surprisingly easy to implement. A feedback meditation method works like this. Attention is focused on the bull’s eye of a spot on the floor. With attention held on the spot, a fixed retinal image is created. Photo pigment is used up causing slight distortions of vision, usually in the form of light. Seeing the light confirms attention. It gives us the feedback necessary for learning, and when the mind wanders, so do the eyes, creating more feedback: an abrupt end to the visual (light) signals. Disappearance of the light signals our loss of attention. In this way a precision guidance system replaces uncontrollable drifting. Meditation’s helpless wandering is no more.

This exercise has been refined through many years of research. Focusing Discs (designed to facilitate feedback) are now freely available at Focused attention on any spot, however, can serve to illustrate the feedback principle that stacks the odds in our favor. A minute or two of focused attention lets the exercise prove itself.

Now let’s revisit the quotes above and see how meditation’s prospects change with addition of feedback. “After twenty years” you’ve begun to learn how to sit... From the beginner’s very first practice session, feedback offers continuous correction. No error goes uncorrected. Thus, just doing the exercise improves practice skill automatically. Feedback becomes your intimate guide, teaching you how to sit.

“After many lifetimes” you will come upon the truth, assumes many lifetimes of drifting and dreaming. With feedback, unproductive practice time can be avoided. Quality, not quantity of practice, becomes the key to success, not hours spent meditating, but minutes on target. Gains come from doing it better and not necessarily longer. As practice skill advances and power of concentration builds, less time is needed for greater benefit. Eliminate wandering and you cover ground fast.

The appearance of meditation remains the same in this reinvention. The task too remains as it was: paying attention. The odds of success, however, are changed for the better when you “see the light” in more ways than one.

Author's Bio: 

As a National Science Foundation Trainee, Carol earned a Doctorate in psychology from Penn State University. National Institute of Mental Health and American Philosophical Society grants followed and Carol published widely in distinguished journals including the American Journal of Psychology, Psychological Medicine, and Medical Hypotheses. Her book WHERE MEDICINE FAILS (1986, paperback edition 2009), acclaimed the authority in its field, became a driving force in the holistic health movement. Discovery of a feedback method of meditation, however, and the meditation breakthrough it produced, redirected Carol's life to teaching, testing and refining the Feedback Method and to crafting enlightenment tests to guide readers to the grand prize. This culminated in 2009 with: STRAIGHT LINE MEDITATION: HOW TO RESTORE AWARENESS AND WHY YOU NEED TO by Carol E. McMahon, Ph.D. with martial arts Master Deac Cataldo. Carol is the author of THE PIG FAIRY and other stories in a forthcoming series: Enlightenment for Children. She is married, has a daughter, holds a sixth degree black belt in Karate, and makes her book available free of charge to retreat center and prison libraries. More at: