In my constant, ever uphill battle to achieve some level of davening nirvana, I have recently fathomed that prayer is a form of meditation.
High school had been a wonderful davening era, where I would plunge into the depths of the words themselves, wipe my mind of all extraneous thought, and simply commune, complete with a residual buzz following.
I swiftly lost that ability, and have been struggling these last 10+ years to acquire it yet again. But I would try through gimmicks, through shtick, through shortcuts. It is only now that it has dawned on me that there is no easy path to focus; one simply must focus.
In an article about using mindfulness methods to treat A.D.H.D. ("Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits" by Daniel Goleman), meditation practice is explained:
To do so, researchers are testing mindfulness: teaching people to monitor their thoughts and feelings without judgments or other reactivity. Rather than simply being carried away from a chosen focus, they notice that their attention has wandered, and renew their concentration.
The first minute or so of davening can go so well. "Yeah, I'm focused! I'm enunciating every single word, boo-yah!" Then my train of thought frantically unravels . . . "Oh, shoot. Why was I thinking about that friend I had when I was 5? How exactly is she relevant to this conversation?"
This is the moment of choice. One can become frustrated and give up, monotonously rattling off the rest of shacharis with self-loathing, or one can calmly brush the idle ruminations aside and recenter one's concentration.
"All or nothing" is a bad habit, and it has certainly held too much sway over my tefilah practices. Bit by bit, bit by bit.