Jun 13, 2011
The Open-Focus Brain, by Dr. Les Fehmi & Jim Robbins
My first read of The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body, by Dr. Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins, generated mild interest in the science behind Dr. Fehmi’s techniques and descriptions of case studies using the techniques.
However, the night I listened to the guided exercises on the attached CD, I had one of the most relaxed, light, and blissful experiences I’ve had in the last eleven years as a serious meditator.
I was able to reach a state I’ve only accessed during long silent meditation retreats.
The Buddhist concept of emptiness came vividly alive in my body, whereas before it had been mostly an intellectual understanding. Not only do I now regularly listen to Dr. Fehmi, I’ve encouraged anyone who would listen to me to do the same!
Title: The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body
Author: Dr. Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins
Format: Book plus instructional CD
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.
After that experience, I immediately re-read the book with great interest and enthusiasm. Dr. Fehmi, a PhD psychologist, posits the central thesis that we are in a chronic state of stress because our attention or focus is narrow, tense, “flight or fight, with resulting mental and physical illnesses. However, when we broaden our focus to a relaxed, diffuse and creative form of attention Dr. Fehmi calls “Open Focus”, a large amount and prolonged period of phase-synchronous alpha activity is created. This means the brain is producing powerful alpha waves, which create a state of alert, wakeful relaxation. In Open Focus, alpha is created in major lobes of the brain, which “reduces stress and allows fluid communication among different regions of the brain, improving mental function effortlessly and naturally” according to Dr. Fehmi.
As a practicing Buddhist I found this book containing an interesting combination of hard science and Buddhist teachings on emptiness, mindfulness, and non-clinging. While I was reading certain parts of the book, I thought to myself that the author must be a Buddhist. He does mention that phase-synchronous alpha is the hallmark of veteran meditators and admits that he “discovered some of the Western correlates of Eastern spiritual disciplines and describes them in the language of psychology and physiology”. But that is the extent of his dharma talk. To satisfy my curiosity, I did a Google search and I found his name listed as Chinzan Les Fehmi on a roster of Zen practitioners. I’m assuming it’s the same person.
The essence of Dr. Fehmi’s technique is to create a sustained awareness of space through a series of exercises to guide people through different kinds of objectless imagery which stimulates the right side of the brain. He leads one through a series of questions that asks the listener to imagine space, volume, silence, timeless, and the five senses. For example, one exercise has the listener imaging the space between and around body regions and through them, extending limitlessly in every direction. I found this to be a brilliant exercise in manifesting the core teachings of the Heart Sutra.
How we pay attention is crucial – Dr. Fehmi argues that “attentional biases and rigidity are the principal causes of human misery and suffering”. This book provides a detailed description of the four kinds of attention (narrow, diffuse, immersed, and objective) and the most effective use of each of them. In addition, the book describes the science behind why the brain imagining space, silence and timelessness has the effect of improving memory, clearer thinking and creativity. In essence, by imaging nothing – no-thing – to grip on to, the brain is allowed to take a vacation, to re-set stress-encumbered neutral networks and return them to their original effortless flexible processing. Then overall performance is enhanced.
Dr. Fehmi has done clinical work with clients for over thirty years using the technique of Open Focus attention. The book describes numerous case studies which successfully helped people with anxiety, ADD, dissolving physical and emotional pain, relationship issues, and peak performance of top athletes. The book contains seven written exercises as well as two recorded on CD.
Dr. Fehmi encourages the reader to use these exercise anywhere, “whenever you think of it, carrying out your everyday tasks while at the same time being aware of infinite space, silence and timelessness. Be aware of the three-dimensional space between, around, and through objects. Attend to all your senses: seeing, hearing, feeling, taste, smell, mental activity and time. Include both objects and space. Imagine an awareness of space that permeates everything. Image feeling the background space against which everything is high-lighted.”
I strongly recommend this practical book. May it be a source of healing and/or happiness to you!