“The secret to success in any human endeavour is total concentration”. -Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
So you’ve heard all the hype surrounding the benefits of meditation. You are thinking maybe this is what you need to turn down the relentless noise inside your head? But the big question is: “where do I start?”
This was my starting point many years ago. To get started I invested in a number of well-known meditation books, however something did not seem right. Something was missing.
Then, one day, that something founds it way into my life. A chance meeting with a special person helped change the way I engaged with the meditation process. The power of that encounter left a big impact.
Over the years I have constantly strived to learn more and more about the art of meditation. That quest for knowledge has taken me from Australia to Thailand, to India, to Japan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Vietnam. Every education experience, in each country, has taught me something new. Yet, what was universally consistent with every teacher was the process of calming the mind.
Concentration is the starting point
Have you ever watched a cat stalk its prey? Imagine that cat watching a mouse hole waiting to strike. That cat has this ability to sit and focus with unwavering attention on that one point for hours. That finite skill of blocking out all distractions and locking in concentration is the same skill we need to cultivate if our goal is to establish an ongoing meditation practice. It is the starting point for all meditations. It is a critical part of the process that looks to collect and harness our energy so we can calm the mind and focus inwards. It is not a forced or fixated action, but more a natural behaviour, where we rest our attention in a single place or object for a period of time.
Everything is a balancing act
The American spiritual teacher Baba Ram Das once said, “Meditation and concentration are the way to a life of serenity”. Concentration in meditation can be seen as a balancing act. Remember when you were a child trying to learn how to ride your first bike, or that time when you were learning how to drive a manual car. At first it seemed like information overload. Push with one foot, engage a gear, release the same foot, and then slowly accelerate with the other foot. There was so much going on. Nevertheless, overtime everything fell into place. Eventually you worked it out. So much so that you get to a point where you can probably drive, drink coffee and change radio station all at the same time.
This balancing act became an integral part of you. Learning how to practice concentration in meditation is pretty much the same. It takes time and commitment and cannot be forced. It is a combination vigilance, alertness and perseverance.
How to Calm the Mind.
During my meditation training in Thailand my own commitment and perseverance was challenged on many occasions. I had to spend many long hours sitting without moving. Besides the discomfort of the heat and the flies, I was constantly confronted with issues relating to the conditions of meditation environment. Sitting cross legged, with limited support, on marble floors for extended periods of time tested my determination on so many levels.
In Asian tradition these type of distractions, or challenges, during meditation were the way for developing and strengthening the concentration muscle. The mind needed to learn how to go beyond thoughts, feelings and pain.
During meditation, if we seek to calm the mind we must work with our thoughts and feelings. To do this we must focus our attention on an object, and repeatedly use this object as our anchor point every time our mind wanders into thoughts and feelings. This mental discipline of constantly re-engaging with the point of concentration when the mind drifts is the fundamental principal of meditation training.
The Five T’S of Concentration
In his book, ‘Awakening the Buddha within’, Lama Surya Das has a unique approach to understanding the conditioning process of meditation. He calls it ‘The five T’s of concentration’. Firstly, there is Taming. He asks you image your mind is a wild horse that needs to be tamed enough to get it to move into the arena of meditation. Then, the focus is to train the restless horse to calm down and relax by keeping it on a tight rein. Step 3 tests the progress of the wild horse by introducing it to external distractions to see if it still reacts when confronted by triggers or it remains poised. With this progression the horse in now transformed and can remain controllable in any situation. The final stage of transcendence sees total harmony between rider and horse. Everything comes together as one. No resistance.
Our mind, like the wild horse, needs to be reined in before it can be set free. We need to find the balance between control and release to allow the mind find its natural place. Just like an athlete who starts every training session with warm up drills and stretching before engaging in exercise. We too, as meditators, must spend time at the beginning of a meditation session focusing on concentration exercises to settle the mind.
I personally vary and change my concentration focus point often to prevent my practice from becoming boring or repetitive. Doing the same thing again and again can become automated. This allows the mind to drift off easily into thinking and planning. To combat this type of distraction I might one day concentrate on the rhythm of the breath to settle the mind, whilst the next day I might change my concentration focus onto body sensations. The discipline and control of performing these techniques helps us evolve to a place where there is freedom, insight, wisdom and greater awareness, which is the ultimate goal of meditation.
Outcomes Worth Striving for.
International bestselling author and performance coach, Anthony Robbins, advocates the importance of learning how to control our inner world if we seek success and happiness from the external world. Meditation has proven to help and support many on their journey to victory in life. From professional athletes to top celebrities, meditation plays a big part in their success. From getting in the zone, to improving focus and performance towards a goal, or helping to overcome the emotional ups and downs of life, meditation can help.
If you have any questions or would like to learn how to make meditation part of your daily life please feel free to reach out. Sometimes, a little guidance can make a big difference.