Much of the hard work of learning to meditate is done in the preliminary stages. After you have learnt how to sit and breathe correctly, it is time to perfect the art of concentration. Sri Chinmoy explains it like this:“All along the route to our destination are doubt-trees, insecurity-trees, hesitation-trees, anxiety-trees and worry-trees. They are lying across the road blocking our path. Concentration clears the road of these obstacles. It transforms doubt into faith, insecurity into security and so forth. Everything discouraging becomes encouraging and helpful as we move towards our destination. And that is only the first step. After concentration clears the road of confusion, meditation will purify and illumine our mind so that we see that the goal is not only right in front of us but also within us.”
There are many exercises to help you concentrate. One of our favourite guided meditations is this:
Place a lighted candle on a table in front of you.
Settle into a comfortable position with your spine upright. You can be seated on the floor or in a chair. Your hands can be on your knees or in your lap.
Breathe slowly and very softly.
To begin with, just gaze at the candle as a whole until your breathing establishes a gentle rhythm.
Now focus your attention only on the tiny candle flame. Make sure you are not staring or straining your eyes. If you can keep them half closed, that will help you to keep the candle flame in your field of vision and not be aware of your surroundings. Remember, concentration is one-pointed awareness. It does not look sideways or backwards.
Feel that there is an arc of golden light connecting your spiritual heart and the flame. Each time you breathe in, you are receiving light from the flame, and each time you breathe out, you are offering your existence to the flame.
You will feel that the flame has a living presence. Perhaps you will even feel that it represents your own existence—always reaching higher and higher, soaring upwards.
Try to dwell in that state of union with the light of the candle for 5 or 10 minutes. Then gradually become aware of your surroundings again and relax.
Concentration, Meditation and Contemplation: The Three Rungs
Sri Chinmoy says that concentration, meditation and contemplation are like the three rungs of a ladder. “First comes concentration, then comes meditation and then comes contemplation. They are like three rungs of a ladder. First you concentrate, then you meditate and then you contemplate. If any of the rungs are missing, you may lose your footing. When you concentrate, you try to focus your one-pointed attention on a small object. Then, like a bullet or an arrow, your concentration-power tries to penetrate into the object. Meditation is totally different. Meditation is vastness. In meditation you are dealing with the vast sky or the vast sea—anything that is larger than the largest. In meditation, you try to make your mind calm, quiet, tranquil and vacant so that you can become one with the Vast. When you are concentrating, you are concentrating on the smallest possible thing. Like an arrow, you are trying to pierce the veil of ignorance. When you are meditating, you are dealing with what is vaster than the vastest. All around you are seeing Infinity.”
You can see and hear some more words on concentration on this short video and also see Sri Chinmoy meditating.
It makes sense: to do well in sport, work and meditation or anything for that matter you need focus, clarity and concentration; skills that can be learnt through formal practice. Someone who achieves a lot in the corporate world for example often has focus, concentration, drive and dedication in boundless measure. But it is the spiritual qualities—peace, joy, poise, patience and compassion—that provide true, lasting satisfaction and will change ourselves the world for the better. To get inner peace you need to control the mind. Concentration is a formulatory step in doing this. It’s a precursor to meditation and a practical skill relevant to our day to day lives.
So What is Concentration? How Can You Stop Procrastinating?
Concentration is being focused, one pointed, alert, vigilant. Not letting anything distract you from your task at hand. Musicians will practice for hours. Gardeners forget time and will spend time in that meditative flow tending to their plants. Good meditators will have the concentration to focus for long periods and it is almost apparent in professional athletes. I recall watching a tennis professional receiving serve. They had exactly the same look of focus as meditation class members do when they try concentration. The eyes half open, all concentration, relaxed yet perfectly alert. Concentrate well and we can achieve anything. Poorly and we are easily distracted and take hours or days to do something that could take a few moments. Our performance is hindered.
Many great sportsmen talk about moments of absolute conviction before a major victory or event. They feel at peace with the race, game or task ahead. Nothing is forced and as a result, victory or achievement just flows. Olympic great Carl Lewis concentrated and meditated before his big races. Unusual because one hundred metre sprinters are known for hyping themselves up into almost manic states. They walk around behind the blocks, lapping the air with their tongues and generally firing themselves up, but not King Carl. He focused his mind and energies by meditating. One technique he used was focusing on the furthest sound he could hear. Whatever he did worked. He won nine Olympic track and field gold medals, broke numerous world records in the 100 metres and long jump, still has one of the world’s fastest splits for a relay leg and never false started.
“I would start 100 metres and the person would say, come to your mark, and I would get down to my mark and then I would clear my mind,” says Lewis. “Just go quiet and try to listen for the farthest sound away from you. I had generally the fastest reaction time of any of the athletes because I would clear my mind and listen for the gun. Just having my peace, where it all stops and you’re just aware of where you need to be. I think there’s a source of strength in that silence because the 100 metres is the ultimate dichotomy—it’s total relaxation and explosion. Every record I set, I knew it was a record because it was the easiest race I ran.”
“Concentration means inner vigilance and alertness,” says Sri Chinmoy. “There are thieves all around us and within us. Fear, doubt, worry and anxiety are inner thieves that are trying to steal our inner poise and peace of mind. When we learn how to concentrate, it is very difficult for these forces to enter into us. If doubt enters into our mind, the power of concentration will tear doubt to pieces. If fear enters into our mind, the power of concentration will chase away our fear….Concentration is the surest way to reach our goal, whether the goal is God-realisation or merely the fulfillment of human desires. A real aspirant sooner or later acquires the power of concentration either through the Grace of God, through constant practice or through his own aspiration.”
Concentration can definitely be practised and cultivated. Don’t despair if you have poor concentration. Spend some time working on it and it will gradually improve. One method Sri Chinmoy recommended was meditation on a black dot. Sounds strange but it’s not really. It is such a simple thing. It is easy to notice when your wandering mind interferes and intrusive thoughts interfere taking away from your concentration on the dot. Below is a black dot. Paste it onto a sheet of paper, print it out (don’t try it on a computer screen) and give it a go.
Below are Sri Chinmoy’s instructions on the concentration exercise using just a simple black dot.
“First wash your face and eyes properly with cold water. Then make a black dot on the wall at eye level. Stand facing the dot, about ten inches away, and concentrate on it. After a few minutes, try to feel that when you are breathing in, your breath is actually coming from the dot, and that the dot is also breathing in, getting its breath from you. Try to feel that there are two persons: you and the black dot. Your breath is coming from the dot and its breath is coming from you. In ten minutes, if your concentration is very powerful, you will feel that your soul has left you and entered into the black dot on the wall. At this time try to feel that you and your soul are conversing. Your soul is taking you into the soul’s world for realisation, and you are bringing the soul into the physical world for manifestation. In this way you can develop your power of concentration very easily. But this method has to be practised. There are many things which are very easy with practice, but just because we do not practise them we do not get the result.”
In our free meditation classes we try a number of other exercises using eyes open concentration methods. Candles for example, are effective to practise concentration. We also do other breathing concentration exercises and offer a lot of practical advice. So visit our calendar for our latest activities, meditation classes and seminars in Perth, Western Australia or phone 61614156.
To get started and begin with meditation you can do a number of things. Most of the tips for meditation below are practical meditation hints and others are spiritual meditation hints. The main thing is to start. Do not worry to much if you can’t meditate at first. Get some regularity in your practice without expecting to much and eventually you will learn to silence the mind and experience meditation. As you get better at meditation you can try it in different scenarios: meditate while running, cooking and so on. But to begin with just stick with the basics.
Tips to Begin Meditation
Avoid eating before meditation: you will just feel sleepy, restless and lethargic if you eat before meditation. Ideally you want to be alert and vigilant.
Freshen up, have a shower, get in some clean clothes: again this helps you feel alert and refreshed. Have some specific meditation clothes if you are really keen. Loose, comfortable clothing works best.
Set up a shrine or set up a meditation area: an area inside that you keep sacred, tranquil and spiritual. Decorate your shrine or meditation area with a nice cloth, fresh flowers, a candle, anything that inspires you.
Burn incense, play some spiritual music in the background. Neither are necessary but if you like them go for it or…
Meditate in silence: make sure your meditation area is somewhere quiet and free from noise as much as possible.
Avoid lying down if you can: remember falling asleep or drifting off into a day dream isn’t meditation.
Sit upright: you can sit in the lotus position or cross legged or in a chair. Keeping your spine upright helps with breathing and energy and stops you falling asleep.
Meditate early in the morning: the earlier the better but choose a time that you can keep regularly. Evening is the next best time.
Keep your body pure: refrain from alcohol, drugs and smoking and try and stay fit and healthy. It makes your body more receptive.
Join a meditation class, a regular group or find a meditation teacher. Remember it should be free meditation. You can’t buy inner peace, you have to practice it!
Do not meditate too long to begin with: five minutes is fine. As you get better you can build it up to half an hour or even an hour of meditation. Quality is better than quantity though. Start slowly with an achievable length of time and stick to it until you can concentrate for longer periods of time.
Meditation is easy with a meditation teacher.
The Sri Chinmoy Centre in Perth offers free meditation classes both south of the river and north of the river. Most of the time the classes are evening meditation classes although a number of weekend meditation seminars and workshops are also conducted. Chairs are provided in the classes and all you have to do is bring yourself. Registration for the meditation classes is necessary though. Classes take the audience through the basics of meditation. How to improve your concentration. How to visualise in meditation. Relaxation tips for meditation and so on. Visit our calendar page for the latest list of meditation classes in the Perth metropolitan region or you can phone 616 14156.
Meditation is being in silence. Free from the constant unending stream of uninspiring and irrelevant thoughts that usually enter into our minds. To meditate we need to stop thoughts. It is simple to do, but difficult at the same time because we incorrectly learned from a young age that the mind is what needs to be developed. Meditation takes us away from our intellectual and analytical mind. To something deeper within. In a meditation class I attended once, I heard the instructor mention to the students: “When you are beginning, consider it a success if you can reduce the number or volume of thoughts.” True, to a great extent but as you improve, in deep meditation, you have no thoughts. Says Sri Chinmoy “The surface of the sea is a multitude of waves, but the sea below is not affected. In the deepest depths, at the bottom of the sea, it is all tranquility. So when you start meditating, try to feel your own inner existence is like the bottom of the sea—calm and quiet. Feel that your whole being is surcharged with peace and tranquility. Then let the waves come from the outside world. Fear, doubt, worry—the earthly turmoil—will all be washed away, because inside is solid peace.”
Thinking Too Much
So how do we stop thoughts? There are various practices you can employ. Below are three which we teach in our free meditation classes (as well as many others).
Concentration: this involves focusing awareness and not letting your mind to wander or drift off. “In concentration we focus our attention on a particular subject or object and do not allow our mind to roam,” says Sri Chinmoy. “Thought-waves must stop in concentration. We are like a bullet entering into something divine, or we are like a magnet: we are pulling the object of our concentration towards us. This is concentration.”
Visualisation: one of my friends liked to visualise himself ducking when a thought came in meditation, or he felt a thought to be a bird he just let it fly past overhead. Another took a more aggressive approach and imagined he had a samurai sword and was cutting them to pieces!
Access your silent loving heart: Sometimes beginners are under the impression if you have no thoughts you will be a simpleton. It is not like that. You can access more fulfilling parts of your being. The heart for instance Sri Chinmoy describes as like a Himalayan cave or a beautiful garden, peaceful and tranquil. Conversely the mind is like Times Square on New Years eve or a dense jungle. Where would you rather be?
It takes daily meditation practice and attendance at a regular meditation group to get really good at meditation. You will gradually learn the art of meditation and unlearn thinking too much! Attend some of our free classes or free meditation workshop retreats to learn more about it.
When we meditate, what we actually do is enter into the deeper part of our being. At that time, we are able to bring to the fore the wealth that we have deep within us.