How to Quickly Create Concentration & Sensory Clarity


This was an email I wrote to a client who was complaining that he wasn’t able to keep his focus on anything – nor was he able to identify physical sensations associated with emotions. He is also quite resistant to sitting down to meditate at all and gets quite frustrated with the whole process because it is not peaceful as he feels it should be and he often abandons it after a few minutes. (He likes to do wine tastings, so you’ll see that I used that analogy below.)

I gave him a labeling exercise where, during driving, he labels OUT LOUD where his attention is within “SIGHT” “SOUND” and “TOUCH” (i.e. the older labels for what is now, in Shinzen’s present Basic Mindfulness system, calling “SEE OUT”, “HEAR OUT” and “FEEL OUT.” The reason I’m using the older labels is that this client originally studied with me when we were using those labels and those are easier for him to use – so with his tendency to get exasperated with the whole process, I wanted to limit the challenges – at least until he has developed some depth of concentration.)

Then, after about 5 minutes of that, he can also start noticing “FEEL” (body sensations that are emotional in nature – currently called “FEEL IN” in Shinzen’s Basic Mindfulness System.) My goal was to use the tangible reality of the world around him to help develop the concentration and then to point some of that concentration to emotional sensations to gain clarity & equanimity with them.

Hi ______,

Okay, so, it’s time for you to develop the concentration that will give you the peace you seek. You are actually dropping into peaceful states all day, but the lack of concentration makes it impossible to abide there.

VOCAL LABELS – while driving – can do wonders. And for you, keep it to Touch, Sight, Sound – and only adding “Feel” after a few minutes of just TSS.

And for FEEL, imagine I am continuously throughout the day asking you where you feel things in your body? Every time you smile or enjoy or feel unpleasant emotion – tune into how that manifests as a unique body sensation – without judgment – but with interest.

Yes, there’s a good chance that it will mostly be in the front part of the torso, but the more you look, the more specificity you’ll find – maybe it will be more in the chest or belly – maybe the texture, intensity, boundaries change. Just like tasting wine – the more you do it, the more discrimination – and appreciation – you get.

Every smile, every time you’re thinking of what you don’t like – where do you feel that in the body? Just keep checking it out.

If you do those 2 things, we’ll be able to go quite deeply quite quickly – but you do need to exercise these muscles every day.

I know you can do at least 10 minutes a day of this practice – and probably alot more since I know you have to spend a good deal of time in the car each day – so let’s take advantage of that time to develop the muscles that will create more ease and well-being in your life. Sound like a game plan? This, I know you can do.

I look forward to checking in with you in 2 weeks.



  1. Yvonne says:

    Steph, this is just such a gift. After working with you last night and how you fine tuned into what I will call my “issues”, I was so relieved to feel settled in my mindfulness practice again ala Stephanie Nash style 🙂

    So I thought I would come to your blog to see what as new and I found this. I am going to record it. You had shared a bit with me about this and I thought gosh I would love a little pointing on how to really get down to it. And here it is.

    I believe in my heart that the work you are doing is reaching a lot of people who, like me, get stuck in the old brain pathways from all our spiritual practices and staying in ruts of Dark NIght or Dissolution. That was just my case and I had seen that a few weeks ago in an insight something like this: What if, now that I am understanding what is known and proven about the how the brain heals and also “wounds” sort of speak…well what if I am perpetuating the angst and the Dark Night etc. myself. There is nothing out there making this happen, it is my own brain!

    I now know this to be the case for me. A few days I started practicing regularly mindfulness again, and am quickly coming out of the self-created “dark night. And after last night’s session, well, for sure this is the case.

    I plan to write about this on my own blog, as so many of us need to see this and need to understand how the brain works to either heal us or wound us as Mario Martinez says. He has shown this quite dramatically in his study of people with stigmata.

    For those long time spiritual high seeking folks, we need to understand this so we can live happy and productive lives as well as be spiritual folk 🙂

  2. Yvonne says:

    More than a month later, after a Home retreat with Shinzen, which seems to have continued all week, I am revisited this post. And realized that the simplicity of this little “practice” is exactly what I was needed just now since I have been attempting to keep a practice going while driving and other activities.

    This morning I was sitting outside with feel out and hear out and at one point a smile keep and I was able to feel into it. May seem like a little thing, but for me it is big. It was a small focus on positive thing. You always are talking about exercising the “muscles” but honestly I feel I am only now really groking it.

    So your words are going to be my little mantra : Every smile, every time you’re thinking of what you don’t like – where do you feel that in the body? Just keep checking it out.

    thank you again Steph!

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