Much of the hard work of learning to meditate is done in the preliminary stages. After you have learnt how to breathe correctly, it is time to perfect the art of concentration.
Sri Chinmoy explains it like this:
“All along the route to our destination are doubt-trees, insecurity-trees, hesitation-trees, anxiety-trees and worry-trees. They are lying across the road blocking our path. Concentration clears the road of these obstacles. It transforms doubt into faith, insecurity into security and so forth. Everything discouraging becomes encouraging and helpful as we move towards our destination. And that is only the first step. After concentration clears the road of confusion, meditation will purify and illumine our mind so that we see that the goal is not only right in front of us but also within us.”
There are many exercises to help you concentrate. One of our favourite guided meditations is this:
- Step 1: Place a lighted candle on a table in front of you.
- Step 2: Settle into a comfortable position with your spine upright. You can be seated on the floor or in a chair. Your hands can be on your knees or in your lap.
- Step 3: Breathe slowly and very softly.
- Step 4: To begin with, just gaze at the candle as a whole until your breathing establishes a gentle rhythm.
- Step 5: Now focus your attention only on the tiny candle flame. Make sure you are not staring or straining your eyes. If you can keep them half closed, that will help you to keep the candle flame in your field of vision and not be aware of your surroundings. Remember, concentration is one-pointed awareness. It does not look sideways or backwards.
- Step 6: Feel that there is an arc of golden light connecting your spiritual heart and the flame. Each time you breathe in, you are receiving light from the flame, and each time you breathe out, you are offering your existence to the flame.
- Step 7: You will feel that the flame has a living presence. Perhaps you will even feel that it represents your own existence—always reaching higher and higher, soaring upwards.
- Step 8: Try to dwell in that state of union with the light of the candle for 5 or 10 minutes. Then gradually become aware of your surroundings again and relax.
- Find a quiet, private place in your home.
- Clear the area of distractions.
- Set up your area with things that inspire you –use flowers, a candle, a picture of a peaceful scene or a photo of your meditation teacher.
- Keep this area for your daily practice.
- Sit upright with your spine erect.
- Set aside 10 or 15 minutes.
Sri Chinmoy says that concentration, meditation and contemplation are like the three rungs of a ladder.
“First comes concentration, then comes meditation and then comes contemplation. They are like three rungs of a ladder. First you concentrate, then you meditate and then you contemplate. If any of the rungs are missing, you may lose your footing. When you concentrate, you try to focus your one-pointed attention on a small object. Then, like a bullet or an arrow, your concentration-power tries to penetrate into the object. Meditation is totally different. Meditation is vastness. In meditation you are dealing with the vast sky or the vast sea—anything that is larger than the largest. In meditation, you try to make your mind calm, quiet, tranquil and vacant so that you can become one with the Vast. When you are concentrating, you are concentrating on the smallest possible thing. Like an arrow, you are trying to pierce the veil of ignorance. When you are meditating, you are dealing with what is vaster than the vastest. All around you are seeing Infinity.”