Day 2 of 30: Developing Concentration (A Foundation)
A busy, distracted mind has difficulty being mindful because it is strung automatically from thought to thought, sensation to sensation, and reacting to whatever arises. Concentration meditation (aka “calm focus”) is a mental exercise to train our minds to focus on one object without distraction. It’s a foundation of mindfulness.
Similar to physical exercise, benefits result from consistency (in this case, a daily practice) and incremental progress (e.g., practicing commensurate with your level of current skill). As a new tennis player, it would not be wise to run out to practice with the professionals at Wimbledon on your first day new to the game. Instead, a more suitable practice would be hitting the ball with a forehand stroke against a flat wall until enough skill is developed to add more practices (e.g., backhand).
The focus of concentration practice can be many things: our breath, a mantra, counting breaths silently, the perception of a candle flame in front of where you are seated, the sensation in a specific part of your body, etc. The object of focus is often called the “anchor.” The breath is a very common anchor because (a) it is always with you, (b) it requires no special equipment (e.g., a candle flame requires a candle), (c) it is a bodily sensation so it connects you to your body and your life energy, and (d) it can be done anywhere. Developing focus through sustained attention to an anchor is one foundation for mindfulness.
Starting today do at least 5 minutes of breath-centered concentration practice each day. Please reach out to me if you need support. Comment below to share your experiences, challenges, and aha moments.
See you tomorrow!
Below is a resource about meditation for concentration practice with breath as your anchor from Joseph Goldstein’s The Experience of Insight .
“Awareness of the breath can be practiced in one of two ways. When you breathe in, the abdomen naturally rises or extends, and when you breathe out, it falls. Keep your attention on the movement of the abdomen, not imagining, not visualizing anything, just experiencing the sensation of the movement. Don’t control or force the breath in any way, merely stay attentive to the rising, falling movement of the abdomen.
The alternative is to be aware of the breath as it goes in and out of the nostrils, keeping the attention in the area around the tip of the nose or upper lip. Maintain the attention on the breath much as a watchman standing at a gate observes people in and out. Don’t follow the breath all the way down or all the way out; don’t control or force the breathing. Simply be aware of the in and out breath as it passes the nostrils. It is helpful in the beginning of practice to make mental notes either of ‘rising, falling’ or ‘in, out.’ This aids in keeping the mind on the object.
In the first few minutes see which object appears more clearly, either the rising, falling or the in, out. Then choose one place of attention and stay with it, do not go back and forth. If at times it becomes less distinct, don’t switch to the other object thinking it’s going to be easier. Once you have decided where you’re going to cultivate your attention keep it there and try to remain with it through all the changes. It is sometimes clear, sometimes not, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes long, sometimes short. Remember, it is not a breathing exercise; it is the beginning exercise in mindfulness.”
Periodically it will be helpful to turn to a reminder of why are you choosing to invest in meditation. Here is a partial list of benefits…