Developing Concentration

Developing concentration is similar to developing physical strength. With patient, persistent practice the following techniques will increase the strength and duration of your attention. Once this capacity is developed, a concentrated beam of awareness can be focused on any activity, leading to deeper understanding and appreciation of the ways things truly are and greater wisdom and compassion in your life.

Classic spiritual literature describes several stages of concentrative meditation, each with clear indicators. A simple way to understand these stages follows:

At the first stage, concentration is momentary, then gradually sustained. A classical indicator that our practice of concentration is becoming more stable is when we can focus our attention on a chosen object or theme for seven, then twenty-one, then 108 breaths without losing focus. As concentration grows, even when our attention does wander, distractions are immediately recognized and we return our mind to the object of concentration.

At the second stage, concentration is so stable that we no longer completely lose focus. As we develop our capacity to sustain our focus of attention without lapsing into distraction or dullness, concentration ripens and matures into a state of contemplation or communion with whatever we are focused on. Here we begin to experience a profound sense of connectedness and flow between ourselves as the observer and the object of our contemplation.

Finally, at the third stage, concentration and the sense of communion become so wholehearted and uninterrupted that the mind literally absorbs the object of its focus and merges into a state of unification. You may have spontaneously experienced such complete concentration at times when you were in love, for example, or when your attention was completely captured by something of inspiring beauty.

In such timeless moments we transcend the duality of “connection” and enter a state of ecstasy in which the subject (self) becomes intimately unified with the object in a state of profound intuitive understanding. As the great Tibetan saint Tilopa once said, “At first the meditator feels like his mind is tumbling like a river falling through a gorge; in mid-course, it flows slowly like the gently meandering River Ganges; and finally, the river becomes one with the great vast Ocean, where the Lights of Son (self) and Mother (ground of being) merge into one.”

As our concentration grows more stable, our perception and conception of ourselves and our world gradually transform and new dimensions of intuitive insight are revealed. Our sense of separation and isolation gives way to a heartfelt sense of connection, intimacy, interrelatedness, belonging, empathy, respect, love and compassion for ourselves, for other “selves,” and for the world and universe in which we live.

Most important, through the practice of concentration meditation we awaken the profound insight necessary to transform our perception of the world; we realize that a world of separate objects and entities is truly a compelling, though widely shared illusion, an artifact of the distracted mind. The journey from distraction to concentration, communion, and unification is truly one that leads us toward discovering the many dimensions of our wholeness.

[Adapted from the book "Luminous Mind" by Joel & Michelle Levey]

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