Concentration is important for achieving anything. It focuses your attention on the goals you set. A friend recommended a book on concentration called, of course, Concentration, by Laurel Clark.
Laurel begins the book asking: “If you were given the power to have one wish granted, what would you choose?” We can imagine what we’d wish for: fame, riches, love, financial security, more time, less stress, etc. Then she asks: “Suppose you discovered that you could have all of these by mastering one skill. Would you be willing to invest yourself in cultivating it?”
That one skill is concentration. If you’re able to concentrate on your wishes, then you’ll eventually achieve them. Laurel defines concentration as: the ability to focus the mind at will. You practice by holding your attention still. This begins with a belief that you are “the director of your mind and thoughts.” You are the witness or observer of your mind and thinking processes. As this director, you choose what to think, when to think, how long to think, and where you want the mind to be focused.
Her book outlines components of concentration that support her decision. She devotes a separate chapter to each component. These components are:
- Attention: the mental sense
- The power of will
- Stilling the mind
- Controlling the senses
- Expansion of awareness
- Joy in life
(1) Attention: the mental sense
We have five physical senses. Attention is our mental sense, according to Laurel. We use our mental sense–attention–with our physical senses. In other words, we use all five of our physical senses to focus our attention. Consider drinking a cup of coffee. You focus your attention by engaging it in what you can see (a cup with coffee in it), sounds you hear (noises in the room), what you physically feel (sensations on your skin), odors you smell and taste (taking a sip of coffee). Focusing attention–your mental sense–with your physical senses creates undivided attention. Attention is undivided because all senses–mental and physical–are working together to engage a particular task.
(2) The Power of the will:
Laurel’s definition of concentration includes our will: to focus the mind at will. Will adds volition to concentration. Attention can easily be distracted. Our director (observer) notices these distractions and uses our will to redirect our attention to the task.
(3) Stilling the mind:
Some people confuse the idea of a still mind with a blank mind. Laurel says that the mind is never blank. Rather, a still mind is alert, expectant, waiting, like a predator stalking prey. This last descriptor that Laurel uses gives us an image of a mind that’s actively engaged. It’s relaxed yet alert. You help create this relaxed alertness by stilling the mind. You choose a point of focus to which you direct your attention, hold your attention there for as long as you intend, and continually redirect it.
(4) Controlling the senses:
Many things can distract your attention. Let’s say you’re meditating with your eyes open. Distractions might be an object you see that reminds you of something. Or a loud sound you hear outside. Or an itch you feel that you want to scratch. So what are you going to do about these distractions? Laurel asks you to control your senses. Do this by purposefully focusing on the task you’re engaged in. Don’t try to control your senses by fighting the distractions. Simply notice and redirect your attention to the task of meditating.
(5) Expansion of awareness:
You can focus your attention narrowly or broadly. Both can be helpful. Laurel says that expansion of attention occurs when you consider possibilities. Contraction of attention occurs when you choose one of those possibilities and commit yourself to achieving it. Both expansion and contraction of attention are necessary. Expand attention first to have a broad view, then narrow attention by making a choice.
(6) Joy in Life:
I love this last component. Don’t you want more joy in your life? Laurel asks, “Why waste life being unhappy when we can see beauty in our surroundings and experience the wonder of creation with each task we accomplish?” Why indeed. You can gain more joy by living on purpose. Pursue what you are truly interested in. This gives your life purpose and meaning. Laurel said that purposeful living begins with the belief that there is something greater than yourself. You find joy by aligning your interest with serving others.
You use your will to make a choice. You choose what to focus your attention on and then commit to holding your attention there for a given length of time. To concentrate, you must decide what is important and choose to give it your full attention. By learning how to concentrate better, you build the one skill that can give you what you want in life.
FINAL IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’ve read this far and are interested in digging deeper…for free…then post a note in the blog for this lesson stating: “Hey Arno, give me a free copy of Laurel’s book.” I have ten copies.
I’ll email you to get your mailing address.
United States folks only. Sorry 🙁
Practice tip: Concentrate!
Integrate all of Laurel’s components into a 10-minute morning meditation. Here goes:
Get into a comfortable meditation posture. Be the director of your experience by integrating all components. First, close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath. Second, engage your will by noticing attention distractions and redirecting your attention to the breath. Third, be still; don’t move a muscle except what it takes to breathe. Fourth, control your senses by not scratching that itch or fidgeting. Fifth, expand your awareness by engaging your attention in all your senses, beyond just the breath. Sixth, enjoy the feeling of being purposeful, choosing to do a practice that is meaningful to you and committing fully to it. After 10 minutes, get up slowly and intentionally begin your day.