What is concentration? To
concentrate is to direct our attention toward a single object for a
sustained period without being distracted. This chapter presents
techniques for visual concentration upon a physical object. Every
type of meditation involves concentration; we could focus on our
other sensory input (in "sensory awareness" exercises), or our breath
(in pranayama), our bodily movements (in movement meditation or dance
meditation), our thoughts (in thought meditation or Zen meditation),
or another phenomenon.
benefits from concentration.
We develop our ability to focus our attention. The focusing of
attention is very useful in studying, reading, memorization,
sports, conversation, etc.
We perceive more details. Instead of flitting superficially
from one object to another, we examine an object's details,
nuances, and nature. Thus:
We learn more about the object.
We remember more about the object.
We behave more appropriately with regard to the object,
because we are considering those subtle factors when choosing a
course of action.
We learn about our psychological processes.
We confront the forces which would divert our attention
from the object of meditation; thus, we learn about our
boredom, restlessness, emotions, thoughts, and a-field
We also discern the types of distractions which snag
our attention. Those distractions might include worries, or
fears, or sexual fantasies. Thus, we learn about our values and
We explore the subtle dynamics by which attention is
sustained or pulled away by internal and external stimuli.
We study the process by which our mind filters stimuli; it
selects the data which will be brought to conscious awareness,
while it disregards the other data. We are constantly bombarded
by countless bits of data from inside of us and outside of us
-- e.g., our senses, thoughts, emotions, feelings, bodily
sensations, etc. In concentration meditation, we intentionally
disregard all data except for the visual perception of the
We examine the "will." When we willfully direct our
attention toward an object, we can study the nature of the will
as it responds to the many stimuli which would try to divert it
to serve their own needs.
technique of concentration meditation.
Select an object for concentration. We can use any visible
object, e.g., a candle flame, a gemstone, a mandala, a decorative
pillow, a mountain, the moon, a part of the body (such as a hand),
or something else. In the beginning, we can choose items which
have the following criteria; as we develop our skill in
concentration, we might use objects which deviate from the
criteria and are thus more challenging:
The object is visually interesting. We can concentrate more
easily upon something which naturally attracts our attention
with colors, shadows, shapes, and other intriguing visual
The object does not provoke an emotional response. (For
example, an emotional response might be triggered by a
photograph of a friend). This response would be a distraction
from the calm, impersonal awareness which we want to cultivate.
We prepare the object.
We set it at a distance which allows us to see the details
We set it at a height which allows us to look straight
We can darken the room, if the background is distracting.
We relax. We sit comfortably, and we breathe easily. Although
the word "concentrate" might imply effort, a self-conscious effort
is a distraction from the visual object; we would be thinking
about the effort instead of the object. Instead, we can simply
direct our attention via the will, which is a mechanism by which
we choose our direction; this is not coercion or a stressful,
antagonistic form of self-discipline.
We refrain from words, labels (e.g., "leaf"), or
interpretations. Instead, we use the non-verbal mode of our visual
We notice the details. For example, if we are gazing at a
We can direct our gaze at only one spot, or we can allow
our eyes to wander across the entire flower -- the petals, the
center, the stem, and the leaves.
We observe the colors -- the subtle shadings, the blending
of one hue into another, and the differences between the shaded
and lit areas.
We notice the shapes -- the rounded areas, the edges, etc.
We notice the textures -- the smooth areas, the rough
We enjoy the concentration. In our daily life, concentration
is easy to do when we are enjoying the object of our attention,
e.g., beautiful music, or a fun game. We can achieve this same
ease during concentration meditation if we allow the eyes to
experience their natural pleasure, via these suggestions:
We allow the eyes to relax. To be certain that we aren't
straining, we monitor the tension in our eyelids, and our
focus, the muscles which move the eyes, and the facial muscles
near the eyes.
We allow the eyes to "savor" the object. The eyes enjoy
exploring, and delving into the object -- slowly, playfully,
sensually, and lovingly. Usually the eyes merely pass along the
raw visual data to the brain where it is processed as a word to
read, or something to classify (e.g., "car"), or something to
judge (as "likable" or "not likable").
We notice the vitality in the eyes when they are permitted
to relax and play. There might be a sparkling stimulation.
We manage any distracting thoughts. If our attention wanders
from the object of concentration, we simply return to that object
-- without a sense of disappointment, frustration, anger or any
other emotion or thought which is, in itself, an additional
We might experience a different relationship between ourselves
and the object. Some teachers say that concentration upon an
object leads to a state in which we merge with the object and we
lose our own identity ("until only the mountain remains," as the
poem says); however, this seems to imply that the object is "real"
while the self is "illusory." But perhaps we are more accurate in
saying that the object and self are equally real or illusory. We
can consider an alternative description of the progression toward
At first, we perceive our action as "a person looking at a
We advance to the state where there is the simple act of
"looking" -- a connection and a relationship without any
particular importance in the entities (i.e., the person and
flower) on either end of this relationship. We might view the
person and the flower as mere polarizations within the single
act of looking.
Eventually, we can transcend this dualistic relationship,
to perceive a common "substance" (i.e., spirit) within both
ourselves and the flower.
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