The Psychology of Focus: Dandapani’s Theory of Mind

What’s the psychology of focus? What’s Dandapani’s theory of mind?

In The Power of Unwavering Focus, Dandapani defines focus as intentionally directed awareness. You must understand what’s happening in your mind when you maintain or lose focus before you learn how to actually focus.

Below we’ll explore Dandapani’s model of the mind and how it relates to focus.

Dandapani’s Theory of Mind

The psychology of focus and Dandapani’s theory of mind boils down to two principles: Your mind is a space, and your awareness is a floating orb that moves around this space. Let’s explore each of these principles in detail and then consider how they work together. 

The space of your mind includes many regions. Your memories, emotions, fantasies, knowledge, and beliefs all occupy distinct regions. Dandapani stresses that you’re not your mind, you’re only experiencing your mind. The part of you that experiences the different regions of your mindspace, Dandapani calls your awareness

As your awareness moves around, your experience of your mind changes depending on the region it’s currently inhabiting. If your awareness inhabits the region where you experience fear, you feel afraid. If your awareness inhabits the region where you hold a childhood memory, you experience the memory. 

Dandapani explains that your awareness can only inhabit one region of your mind at a time. For example, imagine you’re sitting at a desk near a window, working on your computer. While your awareness is focused on your task, you aren’t noticing what’s outside the window. While you’re looking out the window, you aren’t focused on your work. As your awareness shifts between the two, it travels back and forth between the regions of your mind.

The Hindu Underpinnings of Dandapani’s Theory of Mind

Given Dandapani’s background as a Hindu priest and monk, his theory of mind likely draws on Hindu tradition. Thus, we can gain a deeper understanding of his ideas by comparing them to analogous Hindu concepts. Here we’ll explore two aspects of the mind in Hindu tradition: chitta and manas

1) Chitta has been translated as “feeling,” “mind stuff,” and “memory bank.” This concept may inform Dandapani’s concept that the mind is a space—the space is chitta. It may be tempting to think that “spaces” are static and unchanging. However, in some Hindu traditions, chitta is frequently in motion. Chitta-vritti refers to “waves” or movements in the chitta.

2) Manas is the “sensing” or “perceiving” part of the mind. It observes and gathers impressions. This may be analogous to Dandapani’s concept of awareness as a floating orb that moves around the space of the mind. Significantly, manas is considered separate from the ego (ahankara). So if your orb of awareness is like manas,  it can operate independently of your sense of self. This may explain why people describe intense focus as “losing themselves” in an activity—their manas or orb of awareness is centered on the activity, causing them to forget about their ego.

Focus Is Directed Awareness

Dandapani asserts that either you’re directing your awareness, or your environment is directing your awareness. 

When you let your environment direct your awareness, you’re distracted. When you direct your awareness, you’re focused. Dandapani maintains that focus is directing your awareness to the regions of your mind where you want it to go and keeping it in those regions for as long as you choose. 

(Shortform note: Dandapani defines distraction as letting your environment direct your awareness. This suggests that the sources of distraction are external. However, in Indistractable, Nir Eyal contends that much of our distraction starts with internal triggers, like mental or physical discomfort, that we try to escape via external distractions.)

The Psychology of Focus: Dandapani’s Theory of Mind

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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