Developing strong concentration skills can be a challenging endeavor, so we'd like to offer some concentration tips that will help you get the most out of your practice. Optimum concentration is the reward of a dynamically balanced mind-state. It’s the mid-point between two extremes: the agitation caused by excess unfocused energy, or the lethargy caused by energy depletion and exhaustion.
If there’s too much energy moving through your system, you’ll feel overwhelmed, out of control and distracted. But if there’s too little energy, you’ll feel so dull that you won’t be able to focus your attention. In the middle, at the balance point, is the zone of optimum concentration.
To help you maintain your internal balance at the most effective level, here are some tips for dealing with the extremes of excess energy and energy depletion.
—Have you been trying to concentrate without taking a break? Most people are best able to maintain their mental edge when periods of intense concentration are broken up by intervals of mindful relaxation.
—When you become aware that your mental energy is low and the power of your concentration is fading, refresh and refocus your mind by reaffirming your intention to stay focused. Say to yourself, “wake up!” Gently, but firmly reassert your intention to build the quality of your lucid presence and concentration.
—Check your posture. If you’re slumped down or hunched over, find another way of sitting or standing that makes you feel more alert and attentive.
—Pay attention to the physical characteristics of your environment. Is there fresh air in the room, or do you need to open a window? Are your clothes too warm or too heavy? Also make sure your work area is brightly lit.
—From time to time during any period of concentration, make an effort to think of things that cheer you up and inspire your mental energy. Visualizations can help: imagine dullness vanishing like darkness as your body and your mind are filled with light.
—If all else fails, sometimes the simplest remedies are the best. You may find that splashing some water on your face or taking a shower will re-energize you. Or you might take a walk in the fresh air.
—When concentration becomes difficult because your mind is in an overly excited state, try this visualization: imagine you’re being carried off on a wild, out-of-control horse, galloping away. Then regain control by reaching out (yes, actually reach out with your arms) to take hold of the reins. If there aren’t too many people around, you can even say, “Whoa!” This intentional use of your hands and your voice will help bring your body and mind back into the optimum zone.
—Another way to stabilize attention is by deliberately slowing down your movements. Whether you’re walking, or reading, or dialing the telephone, by consciously shifting into slow motion you can intensify your concentration.
—You might find that making physical adjustments, like wearing warmer clothes, eating a heavier diet, or dimming the lights in your room will have a calming effect. And cutting your intake of sugar or caffeine will certainly improve your ability to stay focused.
An especially powerful method of maintaining dynamic balance throughout the day is to experience yourself as a conduit for the energies of heaven and earth. Variations of this three-step technique have been used in many cultures around the world for thousands of years.
—First, as you stand or sit quietly, imagine a spiral of energy rising through you and opening into the sky. Breathe in and draw the energy of the earth up and into you, then exhale and feel the flow continuing upward. Imagine yourself drawing up the energies of the earth, and then offering them to the sky.
—Now, as you allow this flow of earth energy to continue in the background, imagine that you’re drawing a spiral of light down into you from the heavens above. Use all the special effects you can imagine to make this as vivid as possible. Let the shower of luminous energy cleanse your body and mind of any obstacles that get in the way of the flow.
—Finally, just allow yourself to rest in the flow of both of these spirals moving and flowing through you at the same time. Allow these harmonizing, healing energies to totally dissolve any remaining tensions or concerns. As they meet at the center of your heart, let them open your heart and mind to a state of natural radiance. Let your mind and body find dynamic balance in the continuing flow of stability and strength.
[Adapted from the booklet "Awareness Training: Exercises for Mindful Attention" by Joel and Michelle Levey]Return from Concentration Tips to Concentration Techniques