What Is Open Focus?
Open Focus is the name of an attention training program created by Dr. Lester Fehmi, a neuroscientist and psychologist from Princeton University. Dr. Fehmi found that once our whole brain activity becomes more synchronous in alpha frequency, our mental and physical health improves. He created a series of mind exercises that help to cultivate this brainwave pattern, and he designed a neurofeedback EEG machine that can detect it.
On the basis of his findings, Dr. Fehmi developed The Four Attention Styles theory, which describes four different ways we can pay attention, and relates these styles to brain physiology.
According to Dr Fehmi, pain, stress, anxiety, and other challenges make our attention narrow and objective. It is natural to narrow our attention (focus) on pain or a problem in order to deal with it efficiently, but most people overuse this style in everyday life. They are unaware that it keeps them in continuous ‘fight or flight’ mode (see this post). Moreover, habitual focusing creates an impression that the reality consists of separated objects, since we can focus on only one thing at a time, leaving the rest outside of our focus. It can make us feel distant, alienated, and lonely.
Dr. Fehmi says we can begin relating to what’s difficult in a more balanced, accepting way by diffusing our attention. Diffusing allows us to see the big picture and connect (immerse) with its elements. It helps to realign with the world and to create healthy relationships. This style is linked to the ‘rest and digest’ part of our physiology and makes the whole brain activity more synchronous in alpha frequency, which can be confirmed by Dr. Fehmi’s machine (see graph below).
Dr. Fehmi suggests everyone’s attention should be flexible, meaning that you can alternate between ‘narrow and objective’ and ‘diffused and immersed’ styles of attention or balance all at the same time. Dr. Fehmi says that the way we pay attention is directly linked to our well-being. Once you are able to balance your attention, you can positively influence your mind and body.
During Open Focus training, we practice diffusing by becoming simultaneously aware of many objects. The object can be everything you can focus on, like a physical object, a sound, a taste, a thought, a feeling, a sensation from the body, etc. Then you can progress to awareness of the space between objects, like the space between physical objects, the silence between sounds, or the breaks between thoughts, etc. Finally, you become aware of space between and inside objects which, according to Dr. Fehmi, helps us achieve diffused and immersed style. In this style of attending, all objects (including yourself) dissolve in space and you immerse with reality, becoming fully connected.