When I was a teenager, I always thought that I have a strong psyche. I have no idea why, I only felt this inner voice telling me that my mind is amazingly elastic. Just a few years later when I started with the first meditation lessons, I couldn’t believe my inability to concentrate. I was just asked to sit still and not move for 5 minutes and see what happens.
Guess what, I couldn’t last for even 2 minutes. In the second minute something inside of me just drove me crazy. The meditator who was instructing me, said: “concentrate.” I tried again but I couldn’t. I spent months trying to understand and feel the difference between concentration and meditation and to experience the moment of transition from the former to the latter. My mind was elastic, but mostly in thinking and not in concentrating, as it couldn’t stay fixed on one point.
Most of us, who are new to meditation live the cliche of going to meditation sessions—the so called guided meditation—trying to meditate by spending time in trying to stay concentrated. Then they’re confused and think that meditation doesn’t work. And worse is that they think that you can practice meditation for improving concentration—not knowing that meditation is only possible when the mind is permanently concentrated.
Concentration as a Prerequisite for Meditation
Concentration is fixing the mind on one object or subject, like when you look profoundly into the eyes of a loved one for a longer time, or when you gaze on a candle light for a longer time without thinking about anything else but the flame.
It’s one of the basic mental skills for setting goals and achieving any kind of results in life. Whatever you want to accomplish, you can get it done quicker and easier when you fully concentrate on the goal and the tasks that aim to that goal.
As the mind is this restless monkey that jumps around all the time—ruminating about the past and imagining the future on almost permanent basis (even in sleep)—it is hard to tame it and make it a tool to serve us efficiently at all times. Like the hand with its five fingers that is serving us inexhaustibly, so the mind is supposed to serve us in the same way.
The mind has only one purpose: to find the solution to any problem and to deliver happiness in the life of a human being.
However, unlike the hand and its five fingers, the mind and its faculties and fluctuations vary in a vast spectrum of complexity. For managing that complexity, the mental skill of concentration is imperative here.
Therefore a science of how to use the mind properly has been developed—the yogic science for mastering life—called Raja Yoga. This structure consists of the eight limbs of Yoga—Ashtanga Yoga, and we will have a look at how this science takes us to achieve an optimum concentration of the mind.
The 5 Steps for an Optimum Concentration
Although it might seem like these steps are too much of a prep work for concentration, they are truly necessary, some of them indispensable. The five steps consist of:
- Yama—Restrain or Self Control;
- Asana—Body Posture;
- Pratyahara—Withdrawal of the senses.
Now, be aware of the fact that some of them you can skip, without including them in the prep work. I suggest all of them and I believe that most of them you already have.
Let me show you how I have mastered the prep work for getting concentrated and ready for a meditation. Try to apply this blueprint and I am sure you’ll reach a level of making your mind sharp like a scalpel. Remember, these steps that I am numbering can be achieved in a matter of seconds once they become part of you. But until this happens, it may take a while.
1. Yama—Restraint or Self-Control
The first thing I do for concentration is to restrain from generating harmful thoughts towards myself and others (ahimsa); I practice silence which is always the biggest truth to me (satya); I control all sorts of desire and my sexual energy on physical and mental level (brahmacharya); I don’t cling to worldly things in life—being free from greed and focus on the subtle values within me (aparigraha).
All this makes me get in touch with myself and in control of my surroundings; it makes me very still and quiescent.
Here, I further deepen my self-discipline by practising contentment (santosha)—appreciating everything I have, like health, proper shelter and fresh food and everything I don’t have, like sickness, anguish or hatred. Simultaneously I sink deeper in my concentration by knowing that I work on myself—learning myself better (svaadyaaya).
Knowing also that there is a higher intelligence within me, taking meticulous care about my digestion, my respiration and the function of my mind, I surrender to it (ishvara-pranidhaana) and feel even stronger the intensity of my being (tapas).
All these observances strengthen my concentration, inwardly and outwardly.
3. Asana—Body Posture
Here, I just make sure I physically sit still and comfortable, being n’sync with my body.
4. Pranayama—Breath Control
This one is probably the pillar for each and every aspect mentioned so far and at any time.
The whole of life is concentrated at one activity only: the breathing, thus controlling the breathing is having the concentration of the mind under control.
The power behind the breathing goes beyond the skill of concentration. I devoted most of my life exploring this subject and wrote a book on it: The Life Force.You can acquire the book if you find this subject of importance to you.
5. Pratyahara—Withdrawal of the Senses
This fifth step is crucial and highly beneficial. It helps balance any emotion and is a must-have for achieving an ongoing concentration. After having applied the previous four steps, I now make sure that I tune my senses within me, cutting off all contact with the outside physical world.
I see nothing but a depth of darkness behind my closed eyes that implies stillness and peacefulness of my being.
I hear nothing but the streaming of my breath and no other sound but that one can penetrate or disturb the intensity of my being—the stillness, the peacefulness and the balance created within me.
I taste nothing but the flavour of tranquility and equanimity that circulate within my whole body.
I smell nothing but the freshness of my physical, mental and spiritual energy—a freshness that is part of the world and the whole universe.
I feel no weight or tactile impression, but the softness and lightness of me, being an expression, an embossment of pure energy into an individual body with an individual mind.
I let my senses work within me, improving my concentration without any help from the external stimuli. This is the best prep work for making concentration concentrated within every single cell of the body. Even the thought is trapped and concentrated within.
Searching for improving your concentration has one purpose: being capable of the best performance in life. It is natural that we thrive to be successful and prosperous in life. To be prosperous and successful, one must be concentrated on the particular accomplishment. And all the qualities that are needed to establish a concentrated mind are within us. They need to be well bred and well developed, in order to perform concentration as a mental skill in the outside world.
Use these five steps as a blueprint to create your own individual design for improving your concentration. Put your focus on your goals and pay close attention on how the aspects I mentioned are strongly connected with the process that makes your mind concentrated toward that goal. All this work of focusing, paying attention and creating concentration is a work of mental activities—the building blocks for an elastic and concentrated mind.
The moment these mental activities are established, you’ll be able to dwell within you and reach a meditative state of mind where all the so-far-mentioned attributes and qualities will amplify and improve your character, your intrinsic values and you as a human being in general—you achieve a perfection of personhood.
Through the work of the above five steps, the mental activities slowly diminish, turning into a mental state of mind called meditation, which not only strengthens the mental activities of focus, attention and concentration as a result, but also sheds light on many deeper levels of your psyche, giving answers on all the mind-boggling questions about life and existence.
More Tips for a Better Meditation Practice
- The 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime
- How Do You Meditate? 8 Meditation Techniques for Complete Beginners
- The Guided Morning Meditation for Beginners (That Will Change Your Day)
Featured photo credit: Matteo Di Iorio via unsplash.com