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Concentration and meditation

How do you concentrate?

Do you bear down, lower your gaze, furrow your brow, and pretend to pass a bowling ball?
Or do you relax, breathe, and simply look at the task, space or object right in front of you?

Yep, I like the second one. I think of successful concentration as a relaxed elimination of distractions instead of a brute-force effort applied to the object of concentration.

Language is important here. When one begins to mediate, one is often instructed to concentrate on something: a flame, a sound or one’s breathing. No wonder people have trouble with this: if they are bearing down on the problem, directing all their energy to it, they get stressed out and nervous, allowing all sorts of thoughts and judgements to flow in. It doesn’t work? You’re not concentrating hard enough! Shame on you!

To be fair, some teachers say “attend to your breath”, “watch your breath”, “listen to it” and so on. These are all good, but they may be less than successful if we believe that this practice is something new to be learned. It isn’t — it just needs to be recalled. Think about the times you were engrossed in a good book or a movie. You were watching what was happening, without thinking about yourself or how much effort you were using to watch the movie. Remember what that felt like. If the movie was stimulating, recall the same feeling you had during the quieter moments.

That’s the feeling you recall while watching a flame, an image or your breath.

Sure, thoughts will creep in, but if you just watch them creep in (“hm, a thought”), just watch them from a distance (don’t get involved), then watch them dissipate because of lack of oxygen (lack of involvement), they will eventually leave you be.

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