Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is currently one of the most overdiagnosed conditions around the world and especially here in the United States. This is widely accepted as a fact by many experts in the field of psychology. In 2011, the CDC reported that 11% of children aged four to seventeen were reported as having been diagnosed with ADHD, a 35% increase in only eight years. There is no doubt that the condition that we know as ADHD exists on a spectrum and that medication can certainly be justified in some extreme circumstances. But there is also no doubt that subjective, biased and incomplete evaluations by clinicians and parents has led to a lot of children being unnecessarily medicated.
This might be not be a big deal if it wasn’t for the fact that commonly prescribed drugs such as Adderall can be detrimental over the course of prolonged use. Adderall, an amphetamine, is addictive and has the potential to cause some pretty serious side effects, including but not limited to heart palpitations, hallucinations, tremors, high blood pressure and drastic mood shifts. It’s the type of drug that should be used with caution and only when it’s absolutely critical for one’s well-being. And while Adderall may seem like the perfect tool to focus, it also serves as a crutch, inhibiting the user from learning the skills to focus without it. A child growing up with Adderall will likely be totally dependent on it as an adult.
The Zen Warrior learns to work with the complexities of the mind by separating the experiencer from the experience. In other words, we notice thoughts and feelings as they come and go without attaching ourselves to them. We see that the thoughts and feelings are not who we are, but, rather, what we are experiencing in that moment. By learning to differentiate between our thoughts and feelings and our presence, we exercise impulse control. Thoughts are just uncontrolled impulses, some of which are useful and some which aren’t. Being present is a learned skill which involves a dedicated practice of harnessing one’s attention. One must learn to see when the mind is wandering to and from the past and the future and focus it in the reality of the moment. Most people who would never be diagnosed with ADHD still have a very hard time with being present. The mind is constantly going from one thing to the next; from what you had for breakfast this morning, to the meeting that you’re not looking forward to, to the weird thing that person just said to you, to how you’re going to manage to pick up the kids from soccer practice and still be home in time to cook dinner. People with ADHD simply display this type of mental behavior in a more obvious and sometimes detrimental manner than the rest of us.
I practice mindful communication with a group of about thirty people on a regular basis. We spend eight hours a day once a month working on delivering clear, authentic communication to each other while staying connected to ourselves in the present moment. Many of us also practice this same skill for several hours each month in small groups. We actively observe the flow of communication while attempting to be completely ready to take action and speak when our input is appropriate or needed. This is not an easy task. The mind wants to wander when it’s bored and it wants to react when it’s triggered. It wants to judge yourself and others for things that have been said or not said. It wants to remember the thing that it had to say and blurt it out when it’s no longer relevant. It wants to either control the situation or leave the room. It is truly a discipline to simply be with yourself for a long period of time while being truly present and engaged with a group of thirty other minds. Through this practice, I have learned that it is clear intention that makes the biggest difference when it comes to focusing on the present. Intention is the direction that we choose to give our minds. Strong intention can only be accessed deliberately through connecting deeply with what one desires in life. Intention gives context to the present moment that the present moment doesn’t have without it. What am I going for in my life right now? What do I need to do right now in order to build my life in the direction of my choosing? With this disciplined attention, every moment begins to have context that we have created for it and the mind can more actively focus on the present because it’s focused on what matters to us.
By teaching both children and adults with ADHD mindfulness practices and the power of intention setting, they can begin to discover the peace and quiet that resides within them when they are not at the whim of every direction the mind wants to take them. They can begin to see that it is up to them to create meaningful context out of what is occurring in the present moment that will support them in living the lives that they truly desire. Without intention, the mind has no direction and will roam around endlessly.
It must be emphasized that focus is a learned skill that takes years to develop. The unconscious mind is a powerful force for anyone, no matter whether one has ADHD or not. Thoughts and distractions are constantly ready to direct our attention away from what’s important. For those with ADHD, this can be debilitating. But there is a solution. The Zen Warrior Training solution is to discipline one’s brain to incrementally learn how to gain control of its faculties so that it can be the servant of our true desires rather than the obstacle.