Concentrating the Mind
In our previous section, Step 1, we talked about the first secret of meditation – sincerity – and the need to commit to regular daily practise. This means both a willingness and a determination to set aside all the other responsibilities in our life for a while, and to creating a regular practise time and a special place, your personal shrine or meditation area, where your practise can blossom. Challenges other than worldly responsibilities and distractions will also test our sincerity, especially a wavering inspiration about meditating at all when the mind seems so hopelessly busy. "Every treasure is guarded by a dragon", the proverb goes, and the treasure of inner peace and a calm mind has a number of little dragons to overcome, especially our own wandering thoughts.
Let's deal a little with some approaches to concentrating the mind, since this is the first hurdle in learning meditation.
- Working with the breath is a starting point for many forms of meditation – as in the preceding exercise – and with practise you will begin to see the still mind/still breath principle beginning to work for you. You can even count every in–flowing and out–flowing breath, up to 10, then keep repeating that cycle for several minutes to focus the mind. If you get up to 6 and then the mind wanders off, start back at 1 and try again to reach 10! Once you master this, count the inhalations only – more difficult!
- Another exercise involves withdrawing your awareness from the senses and cultivating a sense of detachment from your thoughts. Here you become an observer, a witness of your own inner landscapes – the mind is like a river flowing and flowing, but you are standing on the bank, undisturbed and watching, but not being carried away. Feel inside you a detached spiritual self like a calm yogi, at rest inside a calm inner space. Only the breath is real. Or think of meditation as a peaceful, vast, empty sky – each thought is an insignificant small bird crossing the emptiness. You notice it, but it does not disturb you – your mind is anchored inside the calm flow of breath.
- Finally, try this simple exercise to develop your concentration. At eye level, make a black dot on the wall and stand only about two feet back from it – concentrate on this small point, your eyes open, with intensity as though this is the most important thing in the world – as though your very life depends on it! After some time, feel as you breathe in that your breath is actually coming from the dot, and that your outgoing breath is returning into the dot. You are drawing your very life–breath from the dot, and its' breath is flowing back from you. If you practise this, you will get results – your power of concentration can easily be developed.
Exercise: Concentration on the Candle Flame
Let's go back to the partly open eye technique – the 'lions meditation' – and try another exercise in concentration. The skill of concentration is more easily mastered when you can visually connect to something, an anchor point for the mind – like a magnifying glass gathering and focusing the rays of the sun. Concentration gathers the wandering tendencies of the mind into a single point of focus. Begin by focusing your attention on the candle flame and gather all your concentration into one point. The base of the flame is easier on the eyes than the bright flame itself. Feel a sense of intensity as though this is the most important thing in your life. Let thoughts, distractions, everything fall away – only the flame exists. Feel like an arrow or a bullet travelling quickly towards and into the flame, merging into it. Feel alertness and intensity of effort. We are using the mind's dynamic willpower to clear the way of thoughts or feelings.
After several minutes of concentrating all of your awareness on the outer candle flame on your table or shrine, close your eyes and imagine the candle flame inside your spiritual heart, in the very centre of your chest. Concentrate your awareness on the inner flame – its light, its warmth, its brightness is inside you. Gradually, let this image expand – the luminosity of the flame is expanding outwards and upwards into the mind, filling every part of the being. Feel that you are filled with the warmth and radiance of the flame; the light of the soul is occupying every part of you.
When through practice you begin to actually experience a sense of being filled with golden light, your power of concentration is really preparing you for the next step into meditation. If the mind wanders in this exercise, reopen your eyes and focus again on the outer candle – then once again bring the image into the centre of the chest and concentrate the mind there. The focus from outer to inner, back and forth, extends our concentration from physical object to abstract, imagined object and is helpful in our spiritual training and in developing one–pointedness of mind.
- Each time you practice, feel that every moment spent meditating is a golden opportunity to learn and become something very special. Feel each moment of meditation is sacred – you are following an inner pathway that will bring about a great blossoming of spirit. This feeling will give you sincerity, intensity and focus and help you to deeply value the time you have set aside each day.
- In his teachings and writings Sri Chinmoy talks of two other complementary attitudes to enhance our love of meditation. The first is to have a feeling of gratitude in our heart when we begin our practice. A special opportunity has come into our life – we are awakening as though from a long sleep and beginning the journey of self–discovery. A feeling of gratitude – to our soul, to God, to life – opens the heart and helps us to cherish our developing practice and to deepen our receptivity to the gifts and benefits of meditation. You can look back at your past, at what you once were, and look forward into your future at what you will become and also feel gratitude. A new world of purpose and happiness is beckoning you. If you believe in God, feel that God is calling you – you are meditating because your soul is responding to a call from a higher world and for this gift you also feel gratitude. Try chanting the word 'gratitude' seven times like a mantra before you begin – over time this deceptively simple practice will gradually deepen your meditation experience.
- The second useful attitude Sri Chinmoy encourages is the feeling of being like a child. A child's sincere cry brings the father or mother to him immediately – if you feel helpless like a child and have a child's simplicity, purity, sincerity, you will be less concerned with technique and self–effort and feel that your way forward, your practice of meditation will all be given to you by the loving parent, God. Meditation is a gift and you bring this gift of silence, stillness, inner peace into your life when you call out with your child's heart of sincerity, your inner cry.
Next: Learn to Meditate – Step 3.
Return to: Meditation Course – Learn to Meditate Online Index Page.