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Anchors Aweigh

In keeping with the August theme of songs as inspiration for writing about mindfulness and meditation, this song may not seem to be an obvious candidate -- it sure wasn't to me, but what a pleasant surprise!

The backstory is that I've been taking some long bike rides lately, to serve my mental and physical well-being, and one recent ride took me past the Great Lakes Naval base, where I could hear the young men/women singing (presumably, while they were practicing marching drills). The song they were singing was, "Anchors Aweigh"-- which I know well from my father, who was a naval cadet at Great Lakes, back in the days of World War II.

Aside from smiling a wistful smile, I started humming that song to myself and thinking about-- anchors! Which, in turn, got me thinking about the various anchors we can use to guide meditation, and the rest (as they say) is history. Inspiration can sometimes come from the strangest places!

In meditation, the term "anchor" is often used to reference the place we choose to rest our attention, which is always on. Our anchor is also the place to which we return whenever our minds are caught up in following the story of a thought, or the feeling of an emotion, or the color of a mood. Returning to one's anchor-- whether it be a mantra, silent chant, visual point of focus, or the breath-- is a foundation of meditation-- particularly, in focused meditation.

The circular nature of focused meditation-- noticing or observing our thoughts, emotions and moods, then watching them pass, as we return to our chosen anchor-- can be hard work, but it's work that makes us stronger. It's also a practice that lies at the heart of emotional self-regulation-- a secular skill that has direct application to everyday life.

There's an alternative meditation practice that I sometimes revert to, in conjunction with focused meditation. It's referred to as open awareness meditation, and it doesn't employ the use of an anchor to close the loop, as it were, on a thought, emotion or mood. Open awareness meditation involves the continuous, dispassionate monitoring of internal and external events, with no conscious closure -- there is no reset button, so to speak.

In open awareness meditation, our attention-- and the things it notices or observes-- becomes the very subject of our meditation. It's an unattached, non-judgmental, state of awareness that is difficult to maintain, and is certainly not for everyone. That said, if you're ever in the frame of mind to explore it as an option, I say go for it. You can always go back to focused meditation, if you need or prefer that.

Sometimes it's anchors ahoy, and sometimes it's anchors aweigh-- either way, you'll be sailing!


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