“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
Concentration meditation, as the words imply, guides one to focus on a single object for a certain time frame to induce a desired inner state. Normally we do not realize the busyness of our minds until we attempt something like concentration meditation. It’s startling to find how distracted we are. There is an uncontrolled flowing of thoughts. The practitioners call this state the “monkey mind,” meaning our minds constantly jump from one thought to another thought akin to the hyperactive movements of monkeys that jump from tree to tree.
Thus, concentration meditation is a great practice to start bringing quietness and stillness to this restless, scattered terrain. Taming that “monkey mind.” Also, since, we are often caught up in the stream of thoughts, the practice will teach us to pay attention to the here-and-now instead of dwelling in the past or the future, which we know is often futile and useless.
When I practice concentration meditation, my focus of attention is the flow of my breath. I simply pay attention to the sensation of the breath going in and out of my nostrils. Also, I may focus on my abdomen rising and falling with each inhale and exhale. Actually, conscious deep breathing is the first thing I turn to when I am tense or anxious. I find it to be quickest, most effective in inducing calm and relaxation when one is faced with severe mental or emotional distress.
Besides the breath, you can focus on a point on the wall, a candle flame, or a flower. It’s ideal to choose an external object that produces pleasant feelings but avoids strong associations or emotions. You may create an image of an object in your mind, such as a sphere of light. You can utter a simple word or a sound as you inhale or exhale. I have chosen the words, “peace” and “calm” because they resonate with me.
At a first glance, concentration meditation may come across deceptively simple and easy. But the reality is quite different, especially in the beginning of the practice. For most of us, our daily life is mainly comprised of multi-tasking, frenetic, and aggressive activities. So just imagine sitting still and focusing only on one thing for some time – even for a few minutes. Some may get fidgety just thinking about it.
But don’t let that thought intimidate you. We know that with learning anything new, time, dedication, and consistent practice are needed to master it. And as I did for myself, I suggest practicing for a short period of time (about five minutes or so) at the beginning and gradually increase the duration as you get better with concentration skills. Be patient with yourself.
So, you may ask yourself, “Why take on this challenge?” or “How does this meditation practice benefit me?” For one thing, concentration meditation would facilitate a calm mind and relaxed body. Since the mind and body are interconnected and interdependent, such a congruent state would benefit the health of an individual on every level – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. One would experience mental clarity as his or her attention is in the present moment and not entangled in the past memories or the future expectations.
Also, the practice does for the mind what regular exercise does to one’s body, namely, developing sustained strength. The consistent practice would teach you how to increase attention span and your ability to focus. This capacity then will apply to any activity you are engaged in, whether at work or at home. The inevitable benefits include greater productivity and success in your endeavors.
Concentration meditation is the foundation for all other kinds of more complex meditative practice, such as mindfulness or insight meditation. Being able to be present in the moment and be able to pay attention to what one is experiencing internally is crucial to achieving mental lucidity, which is necessary to investigate the truer, deeper layers of the self and beyond, like the nature of reality.