Concentration is the ability to channel our physical, mental, or spiritual energy to obtain a specific goal. Physical concentration consists of channeling all of our muscular energy in that part of the body- arms, shoulders, legs, whatever- which is about to be used. Yoga and Qigong practices combines this form of energy to awaken certain spiritual energy centers and bring balance between the two- the inner and outer minds being one and the same. Anyways, mental energy may be directed towards a specific part of the outer world or used to concentrate on the abstract ideas arising within us.
When our mental concentration is directed towards the outer world, it is concerned with how we perceive things through our five senses. Our thought life is then concentrated wholly on the object of our attention. We can generalize and say concentration is being completely at one with the thing we focus our attention on. When this unity is fully realized we completely loosen our objective consciousness of who we are, where we’re from and sensory impressions except where our concentration is pointed. What that means in straight up laymen’s terms is we become one with what we concentrate on. Sure, it sounds like some cliché eastern philosophical gibberish but there’s a reason Buddhist monks begin their training with focusing on the breath. Stilling the mind and strengthening our concentration is literally the only way to enter into the silence.
SENSORY MEDITATIONS: A HOW TO GUIDE
Nature will eternally be my Temple- and no I’m not talking about this specific patch of trees that feel peaceful and serene. (Someday I’ll do a really metal post on what it means to genuinely embrace nature in all of its glorious brutality, but NOT… TO-DAAAAAAY!) Oftentimes, I meditate outside in the woods.
An easy way to strengthen our visual concentration is to focus on a particularly lovely scene. I mean, sit down and relax into the moment breathing deeply for a few rounds. Then, take a good look at the scene before you mentally photographing the landscape. After a few minutes just close your eyes and recreate the scene piece by piece. Verify your success and open your eyes seeing how well you did. Continue repeating this process until you can recall the entire scene with perfect clarity.
From there take note of the fragrances dancing through the air. Single out a particular odor and single in on it. Think of only this smell until you develop the sensation of merging with it. Draw it deep within your being becoming the smell. (sounds crazy I know, but do it all the same)
Continuing on your soiree through the senses keep your eyes closed and allow your hand to feel around you until you find a stick or a rock that you like. Feel the contour of it and reconstruct what you think it looks like based on how it feels. Like, really examine the bumps and cracks, crevices, the rough spots, whatever you may feel; allow your fingers to paint the picture of it. Once you’re certain you have its shape feel free to open your eyes and see how you did.
Don’t forget to tune into a particular set of sounds in the air around you. There’s always a chorus of birds chirping or maybe the gentle rush of a stream- that’s a personal favorite of mine. Whatever the setting, you can always find something to tune into.
Taste gets a bit tricky to wrap into the meditation with the rest of the senses but you understand the method by now. Bite into a fruit you enjoy and savor its taste. Spend time being mindful of its texture, the subtle notes of flavors or whatever sensations arise in your mind as you chew it. Heightening your sensitivity to taste can produce some reaaaaally interesting experiences.
Alternatives: on the car ride home you can throw on a classical music station and try your concentration on the various instruments that make up the orchestra. Can you single out a violin and focus in on it alone? Maybe find a particular wind instrument your fond of and try it out for a spell. Whatever the case may be why leave this meditative practice in the confines of a wooded area. Take it with you during your everyday life. After all, what good is spiritual practice if it’s never applied to our daily lives?
With that I’ll leave you with a bit of Zen humor.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ATTENTION
The importance of single-mindedness, of bare attention, is illustrated by the following anecdote:
One day a man of the people said to Zen master Ikkyu: “Master, will you please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?”
Ikkyu immediately took his brush and wrote the word “Attention.”
“Is that all?” asked the man. “Will you not add something more?”
Ikkyu then wrote twice running: “Attention. Attention.”
“Well,” remarked the man rather irritably, “I really don’t see much depth or subtlety in what you have just written.”
Then Ikkyu wrote the same word threee times running: “Attention. Attention. Attention.”
Half angered, the man demanded: “What does that word ‘attention’ mean anyway?” And Ikkyu answered gently: “Attention means attention.”
-excerpt from The Three Pillars of Zen