Welcome back to another week following Kevin Schoeninger’s training on Spiritual Growth Monthly. This week Kevin takes us further into the stages of meditation practice with an examination of Deep Concentration. I really like the words in the title…bliss…and power. Because being able to truly concentrate does make us feel powerful; connected with whatever we are concentrating on. And if we are focused on something wonderful, we feel that connectedness as a form of bliss.
Sometimes modern society seems to have swept the value of concentration aside. We are surrounded by distractions, or have bosses who have tried to turn the idea of multi-tasking into a secular religion. I chuckle when I see the TV ad that has one effusive office worker on the phone saying, “Oh, we love this communal seating,” while her harried coworker puts on headphones to try to keep the chatter at bay. At least some of us acknowledge the importance of being allowed to focus within an increasingly noisy world.
We may even think we have lost the ability to concentrate. But I am confident it is something we are born with. Anyone who recently followed the World Cup will have experienced it, if only for one second at a time. It is that second when the ball is in the air, flying toward the goal, and we hold our breath to see whether or not the goalie will snatch it or the kicker will score.
We may experience it when a work of art or music lifts us totally away from our environment, or the beauty of nature takes our breath away. We can also experience this concentration in meditation, and furthermore, Kevin says, it is a skill we can develop and expand. In fact, practicing the skill of concentration in meditation can grow our ability to focus in every area of our lives. If we are ever tempted to think we have more important things to do than meditate, then it might help us to realize that our productivity at work could improve, or our ability to achieve any goal, all by growing our skills in meditation.
This is not just an idealistic notion. There is scientific evidence that meditation practice actually changes how our brain works, and causes physical changes in the brain itself. As Kevin explains:
“These findings have tremendous implications for how your brain functions now and as you grow older. Research is showing that meditation practice is protective against anxiety, addiction, depression, stress-induced brain fog, memory loss, ADD, ADHD, and even Alzheimer’s.”
Where we may have a problem is when we try to force our minds to focus, or hang on, Kevin says, to the state of deep concentration when we find it. True concentration, he says, actually happens when we let go, and simply allow it to occur. Thoughts will still flow in and out when we meditate, but as he reminded us last week, learning the “3 Rs” of meditation…Recognize, Release and Return…teaches us to hear our busy thoughts, while at the same time recognizing whether or not we want to pay them any attention, releasing them, and returning to our meditation cues.
By releasing unwanted thoughts, we develop the ability to choose what we concentrate on. And choice is one of the best ways we have of experiencing personal power in our lives.
If we get frustrated when we can’t seem to concentrate during meditation…or anywhere else…we tend to blame ourselves for not being able to hold our focus. I like Kevin’s description that “our minds seem to have a mind of their own.”
When we feel our minds getting rebellious and wandering off, we recognize that there is also another part of our minds that is watching what is going on. Kevin and other writers on the subject, call this part of our minds “the observer.” It doesn’t judge, but it is aware of the little tantrums of our rebellious, ego driven mind, and also the self critical thoughts we have about not being able to meditate like we want to.
By becoming more aware of our observer, we can use it to let go of the thoughts we don’t want. We don’t have to consciously push them away. We just let them drift off on their own. If we have been hanging on too hard to our busy thinking, we may feel a little afraid to let go. But when we trust the observer, it is sort of like knowing another part of our minds holds a life preserver, so we can release our frantic thoughts out into the mental ocean without feeling we’ll drown.
The observer also helps us learn to be patient with our practice. If we were learning the piano, we wouldn’t start with Chopin and then stomp off in a huff because we’ll never learn this piano thing. We would start with scales. We would build strength and flexibility in our fingers, and even allow that some days we may feel better at it than others.
A really helpful reminder Kevin gives us is that “meditation is different every day.” This can be a very encouraging idea, because as much as we might resist it, if we have an especially good meditation experience, we may be tempted to try to rerun it, and scold ourselves if we feel we lost whatever it was we did before. When we accept that each day is a new experience, and that the process is what counts, then we can relax and let concentration occur naturally.
Kevin has much more than I have introduced here. I especially recommend listening to his recorded audios at www.spiritualgrowthmonthly.com. His voice is very reassuring, listening is like having an encouraging coach with you every step of the way. I learn a lot each week, and really feel inspired. I think you will, too.
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