The nature purpose of training in concentration
The meaning of concentration in a meditative context is similar to the mainstream usage of the word; it simply means to develop the ability to focus our mind upon one object or task single pointedly without distraction. Developing concentration through meditation has many benefits, whether you simply want to become more effective at work, become a better tennis player, become mentally stronger and more resilient, or achieve enlightenment, concentration can help you in your goal.
In general the side effect of concentration is peace of mind. All of us are familiar with the pleasure of being so deeply involved in a task or hobby that all our troubles and worries are forgotten. The flow of concentration creates space and comfort in our mind, and an appropriate detachment between ourself and the challenges we face in our life, enabling us to take better perspectives and make more appropriate choices.
In a specifically meditative context, concentration gives us the power to shift from one state of mind to another at will, making the inner goals of meditation far more eminently achievable.
Should we stay with just one object of training when developing concentration, or can it change?
In the great wisdom traditions of the world generally we find the advice that sticking with one object of meditation is best when training in concentration, if we keep shifting our object of concentration, the act of changing the object in itself becomes a bit if a distraction. However, what I personally recommend is that as your concentration practice evolves, you alter your object of meditation slightly to reflect your developing ability.
Initially when our concentration is quite week, it is best to stick with a relatively gross or manifest object that is easy to find and focus on. Once you become more accomplished you can then switch to a more subtle mental object. Once you can focus clearly for extended periods on a subtle mental object, you can then switch to a very subtle or formless object of meditation. Here are three practical examples of what I mean.
Example 1: The light of a candle flame
Beginners – Gross object: You take an actual candle flame as your object of concentration, fixing your gaze upon it without distraction.
Intermediate – Subtle/Mental object: You take the mental image of a candle flame as your object of meditation, visualizing it clearly and focusing on it without distraction.
Advanced – Very subtle/formless object: You take the inner, empty luminescence, or inner light of your mind as your concentration object.
Example 2: The breathing
Beginners – Gross object: You begin by simply taking the gross breathing as your object of concentration, developing the capacity to follow it without getting distracted.
Intermediate – Subtle/Mental object: If you keep focusing on your breathing consistently, you will find that it will naturally transform into what in the Thai Forest Monk tradition is called “the beautiful breath”. The breathing becomes very smooth, natural and comfortable as the energy winds or prajna, or qi in our body becomes very balanced, blissful and harmonious.
Advanced – Very subtle/formless object: If you keep focusing on the beautiful breath, then breathing will then (over a period of time of practice) slow right down .You can then change your focus to the living inner space and silence that you experience in the pauses between your breaths.
Example: The flow of thoughts in our mind
Beginners – Gross object: Initially you just learn to focus on the flow of thoughts and images in the mind as they arise from moment to moment, watching them as an observer.
Intermediate – Subtle/Mental object: Once you are competent at the beginners stage, you can then switch to focusing on the inner space and silence between your thoughts, taking this as your object of concentration.
Advanced – Very subtle/formless object: Once we are comfortable focusing on the inner space between our thoughts, eventually we can switch to focusing on the open expansive emptiness of our inner awareness, and develop deep concentration on this very subtle object of meditation.
So, I hope these three examples give a clear idea of how we can change our object of meditation as our meditation practice evolves, and our ability to focus on progressively more and more subtle objects increases.
Concentration in daily life
Of course concentration should not be confined to formal meditation practice. In these days of furious multi tasking, it can be a nice practice just to select one activity a day where we choose to consciously focus on that task and nothing else, keeping our mind as present to the task as possible. It does not need to be complicated. It can be hanging out the washing, our daily half hour responding to emails, our daily jog, even mindfully watching TV (Caution, potential capacity for self delusion here “Oh, so all I need to do to develop concentration is watch TV intensely!”).
Developing our concentration requires consistency in our practice, but the benefits really are deep and far reaching in terms of our quality of life, I hope this article contributes to your personal inspiration to develop your own concentration!
© Toby Ouvry 2012, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com