I remember many discussions with my kids about doing their homework that inevitably led me to remark that if they had just been doing it for the time we had been discussing doing it, it would be done. This is a pattern I love in human beings. It is something only we do, turning things around and around and making story all about it rather than simply noticing what it is and stepping into it. So many of our words connect to this process - most of the hypothetical what-if-then-should-want-will-would-can-could conditional structures help us separate ourselves from doing, turn the action into inaction, and surrender us to mind chatter. I don't mean we should avoid real conditional statements: "if it is cold, then I will wear my heavy coat." In that case, just wear the heavy coat!
It comes down to accepting that I will notice what I notice, understanding that there is much that I will not notice, and forgiving that self-selection. Working with that, I notice more about my ability to focus, and this helps me deepen that ability, keeping me in an active mode rather than slipping into that passive mind chat state. Sitting at my desk as I write this on the computer, I am aware of my seat, my weight in balance, the earth below me taking part in supporting my foundation, the air being drawn in and expelled as I breathe. I feel the release of tension in my neck and the looseness in my shoulders as I type, the background sounds, the quality of light from the day, even the sensations of appetite and the way my mind pushes the rest of the day's schedule aside as I do this thing now. Yet I can focus on what I am thinking and doing. This was not always so! It can still happen that my mind's chatter conflicts with what I am doing to the degree that nothing gets done, but much less so. I am so much more willing to go with what actually is, accepting what I am actually attending to by noticing what I am doing. Then I can choose to play in the mind's waves rather than simply get thrown around by them.
My yoga practice evolved simply and in fits and starts, gradually opening into this ability to focus myself, to allow what I notice to be just that. I didn't think this was at the center of my attention as I learned to sit on the mat, or breathe through a sequence of asanas, or discover where I was gripping, where I was able to release, or even feeling how I was judging all of that was happening on the mat. It was not a goal I had set, though certainly at times awareness itself was part of my intention. It seems it was exactly this process of coming to terms with the surface, allowing my attention to slip deeper and deeper into the breath, the overlay of the mind, the impulses and patterns of mind and body that brought me this ease of noticing, letting go of the attachment to what I notice, and bringing me peace with how it is in this moment. I'm learning to release the judgment of myself that separates me from being free in the moment just by noticing that I am judging in the first place.
Just notice what you notice. You can start with your breath, since it is always there and constantly changing. Is it deep, shallow - go closer to it - is it in your throat or belly? Does it have a texture, a quality of ease or catching? Do you feel your ribs widen and contract or perhaps your collarbones or shoulders rise and fall? Does your skin feel any movement, what about the edges of your nostrils? Release all this focus and just breathe. Can you continue to notice qualities in your attention itself, scanning the body, drifting to something else, staying easily this moment on the breath? The practice is to simply notice, drawing your attention back to the breath when you notice it has wandered. Even five minutes of this practice will strengthen your ability to just notice. And being able to just notice will enable more of the clarity that helps you to take action without so much surface distraction. Just see what happens, noticing whatever you notice, and don't think too much about it!