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The River of Concentration

Dear Integral Meditators,

Ever sit down to meditate but just get completely overwhelmed by your distractions? The article below explores an image that I use myself to gradually move from busyness to stillness in meditation, not trying to get there too fast.

If you are in Singapore, do check out the Integral Meditation Class on Developing Focus and Concentration that I will be leading this Friday at 7.30pm, and the Integral Meditation Workshop on Saturday the 11th.

In the spirit of the river of concentration,


The River of Concentration

One of the challenges that we face in meditation is that when we sit down to try and calm our mind we become discouraged when we cannot move it from a busy state to a state of stillness. One of the reasons for this is that we try and do it all at once, like going from running to standing with no ‘slowing down’ period in between. In this article we use the stages of a river as an image that we can use to gradually and incrementallyslow our mind down in meditation, moving from activity to stillness in four stages. In this analogy we take as our object of meditation the body and breathing in combination with the stages of a river.

The highland stream
When we first sit down to meditate at the beginning of our session, our mind is often busy and fast moving like a highland stream coming down from a mountain. The gradient creates a natural momentum that means the water moves fast. At this stage in our meditation we expect the mind to move quickly away from our point of focus, and for us to have to bring our attention back to our body and breathing again and again. This is natural, normal.

The lowland stream
As we get a few minutes into our meditation, we can consciously start to relax and slow down our mind so that it becomes like a lowland stream or river; we can still feel the flow, momentum and activity, but it is not as fast as previously. Our efforts to keep our attention on the breathing and the body are easier and we achieve more consistency.

The valley river
In this third stage we consciously slow our mind down another small increment so that it becomes like a valley river; the movement is slower, more consistent, more predictable. Even though the movement is there, we can hold our attention on the body and the breathing relatively easily and consistently, and when we get distracted we can bring our attention and focus back comparatively easily.

The estuary river
Deeper into out session we now slow down our mind another increment, it becomes like an estuary river; a river flowing at its slowest and deepest. Here we sense our concentration deepening and moving toward stillness. The distracting currents are less and less, and the efforts to keep our mind focused on our body and breathing are easier. The main distractions we face here are relatively subtle ‘daydream’ type movements of the mind that come from the sense of mental comfort and subtlety that we are experiencing. We can feel our mind moving towards a ‘merged’ state; in the same way that the estuary river merges with the great openness of the ocean, we can feel our mind and concentration moving us toward a unitive state of inner openness and spacious awareness.

Outside of meditation
Outside of meditation you can bear the above analogy in mind; when your mind feels like a highland stream, gently slow it down so that it becomes like a lowland stream in order to reduce your stress. Whatever the ‘speed’ of the river of your mind, at regular intervals during the day just mindfully slow it down to the next stage when you need to be a little more reflective and mindful.

Related Articles: The Inner Weather of the Mind
Shifting Down the Gears – On Meditation and Power Napping
How Much Energy Should You Focus on Focus on Being Focused?

© Toby Ouvry 2015, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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