How to Strengthen and Deepen Concentration
In the service of Mindfulness
Developing a concentration meditation practice can bring about a sense of joy and happiness as afflictive thoughts and emotions are set aside, temporarily. Practicing concentration also supports Mindfulness or Insight practice, which is an effective way of changing your relationship to different forms of stress or suffering.
The ability to keep the mind focused on one object or “one-pointedness” has several benefits. Below we discuss four ways to strengthen and deepen your innate ability to concentration, and we explore its benefits such as quieting the mind and body, relaxation, managing stress and how it supports mindfulness. Learn how to tame the “monkey mind” we all have at times and realize greater joy, peace, and happiness.
What is Concentration?
Concentration can be simply defined as paying close attention or attentiveness. The mind becomes tranquil, peaceful, and very pleasant. Concentration is developed by focusing the mind’s attention. It is a mental effort. Joseph Goldstein in Mindfulness (2013) defines concentration as “the collected nature of mind” (p. 21). In the context of meditation often we see the Pali term for concentration – “Samadhi,” when “the mind becomes stable, composed and serene” (Shankman, 2008). With practice, the mind becomes free from desires and discontent. The qualities of samadhi include concentration, composure, and unification of mind. When the mind is concentrated, “we are undistracted, and we feel this non-distractedness as peace” both on and off the meditation cushion. (Goldstein, 2013, p. 265).
Four Ways of Developing Concentration
Developed Naturally – Creating the Conditions for – 1) Concentration can be developed naturally through enjoying “embodied presence,” “…settling back into the body, and allowing the stress and tensions to unravel through simply being aware of what presents itself” according to Goldstein. The embodied presence way of developing Samadhi is based on “skillful behavior,” that is starting with a foundation of morality or ethical behavior, so that the mind will not be “filled with worry, regret, and agitation.” Following the five precepts (similar to the 10 Commandments) prepares the mind in this way of developing concentration. (The five precepts include refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, or using intoxicants that make the mind heedless.).” With this foundation, Goldstein observes, we can settle more easily into concentration (Samadhi) or into a mind that is in a happy, relaxed state.
Awareness of the Breath – 2) We focus on a single object and when our attention wanders away from this object we bring our attention back to the object. Awareness of the Breath meditation is a way of developing concentration on a single object – the physical sensations of breathing. Breathing in, you know that you are breathing in and breathing out, you know that you are breathing out. When the mind wanders (the focus of your attention has moved away from the breath) you gently but firmly bring your attention back to the breath. In short, you “aim and sustain;” you aim your attention on the breath and keep the attention there, gently, with a curious, kind attention and a wise effort.
Walking Meditation – 3) We can also strengthen concentration through Walking Meditation. This practice focuses attention on the sensations of each step. We simply walk, while focusing on (attending to) and sustaining the focus of attention on the lifting, moving, and placing of each step. When the mind wanders – that is, when the focus of attention has moved away from the physical sensations of lifting, moving, and placing each foot, you simply bring your attention back to the sensations of walking. The physical sensations become your focal point or anchor, just as the breath is in the example above. Repeat “coming back” to the sensations of walking each time the mind wanders. With practice, you can expand your focus of attention.
Working with Changing Objects – 4) We can develop a one-pointedness on changing objects called “momentary concentration.” Rather than focusing on one object, such as the breath, the focus of attention becomes the flow of various mind-body objects such as the breath, body, sounds, thoughts, emotions, and stillness. We observe the flow of objects as if from a distance, without getting engaged with any of the objects. This practice is called open awareness or sometimes choiceless awareness.
What are the Benefits of Developing Concentration?
These concentration practices keep the hindrances at bay (hindrances are categories of things that will distract the focus of attention). They are sensory desire, ill-will, aversion, sloth and toper, restlessness and worry, and doubt. This results in a sense of calmness or tranquility of mind and body. However, this peacefulness is only temporary. Concentration practices alone do not include the practice of inquiry into the nature of things as in mindfulness practices.
An important benefit of concentration is its role in mindfulness practice. By strengthening concentration you are able to see more clearly what is actually happening. Concentration helps to steady mindfulness as you explore who you are and how you navigate the world, as you come to know yourself in a deeper, experiential way. Gil Fronsdal in a talk, April 2000, observed, “Just as a rudder can hold a ship steady on its course, concentration offers stability and steadfastness to the practice of mindfulness.” In short, developing greater concentration brings about tranquility, relaxing mind and body, in the service of mindfulness.
Mindfulness Meditation – Concentration, Awareness, with Compassion
Mindfulness is awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally (that is, being aware of and suspending judgment). Mindfulness involves training in attention, awareness, concentration, and compassion. You come to know and understand yourself in a deeper, experiential way.
Key aspects of mindfulness: Concentration – the ability to stay focused on one object, one-pointedness. Awareness – another way of knowing that is non-cognitive or experiential; in the present moment – not being caught-up in thoughts of the future or the past. Mindfulness brings a gentle, curious attention to whatever arises in mind and body. We are is just directly observing the sensations themselves, as moments unfolds, with nothing added. As practice deepens you gain insights into the conditions that influence thoughts and behavior. These insights deepen our understanding of our conditioning, leading to great compassion for self and others. Keep in mind, as with developing any art or skill, mindfulness requires practice and patience.
How mindfulness works: Mindfulness practice allows you to respond rather than react to stressful situations. Reactions are often automatic, unconscious, and habitual. Responses are conscious choices arising from mindfulness – perception, appraisal, awareness of what’s actually happening in the moment, clearly seeing. This process results in not identifying as closely with our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, which in-turn loosens our attachment to them. This allows “space” for creative, conscious choices to arise.
Benefits of Mindfulness Practice, realizing greater health and happiness
- Changing your relationship to stress, anxiety, anger, fear, sadness, and other emotions
- Being less reactive and more responsive–allowing space for conscious, creative choices
- Developing peacefulness, a reservoir of peace or calm energy
- Gaining insights- identifying skillful and unskillful patterns of behavior, speech, etc.
- Being more compassionate with self and others
Mindfulness Practice Evening is a Free Offering for the Community – that meets the second Friday of each month from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. These mindfulness instruction sessions explore different aspects of mindfulness through discussions and practice. They are free. All those who are interested are welcome – whether you are just curious or have a regular practice. Free parking. No registration is required. More information – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dedicated Mindfulness Practitioners Group meets, each Saturday, from 8:30 – 9:30 a.m., for those with some experience with meditation. These two mindfulness practice opportunities and the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction workshop are held at the Healing Lodge, next to the Loran Smith Center, Piedmont Athens Regional, at 240 Talmadge Dr., Athens, GA 30606. More information – JaseyJones@gmail.com
Benefits of Mindfulness Practice, realizing greater health and happiness MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Center for Mindfulness, the University of Massachusetts in 1979. It is one of the most effective and researched stress reduction workshops available today. MBSR is taught and researched at US medical centers, universities, and elsewhere throughout the world. Research on MBSR is the “gold standard” for mindfulness – www.goamra.org
The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) workshop provides guidelines and practices for bringing mindfulness to stress or the suffering that we all experience in life.
The MBSR workshop is available thanks to the Loran Smith Center, Piedmont Athens Regional, 240 Talmadge Drive, Athens, GA 30606.
The Mindfulness Practice Evening is facilitated by Mike Healy, Ed.D., certified to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction by the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is a certified Integral Hatha Yoga instructor, RYT 200.