One morning recently in my daily meditation, I was reminded of the need to concentrate. As it almost always goes, I was sitting there mentally drifting for a while at first. Thoughts from there and then instead of here and now were washing over me while I was virtually oblivious to the present. I have long been aware of the need for strong concentration to reap the greatest benefit from meditation, but it’s too easy to become lazy and not stay on task. The command, “Concentrate” came in the form of a simple, direct thought. That happens often enough, but for some reason, this time it had more impact and the thought stuck with me. I felt I needed to communicate it to others.
This has the potential to be a lackluster topic. Who doesn’t know it’s important to have good concentration? Focus is how people like to think of it. Perhaps this is just Self-Help 101. But is it? Think about a time when you exercised excellent concentration and it paid off. Really, think about it. I know you have that experience back there. I mean a time when you really nailed it, like when you were unusually focused. Maybe it was athletic, like getting the big hit when the game was on the line or draining a jump shot in the clutch. How about a time when you narrowly avoided a car accident by swerving away from a vehicle or a deer or some debris? You could have just aced a test–like the Bar or some other pivotal career exam.
I have my own memories, of course, and one of those is a Little League incident. I was pitching when an easy fly ball was hit to right field. The poor kid who was supposed to catch it was just learning and he let the ball fall near him without even making a play on it. I was a complete jerk about it, getting angry and letting everyone know about it by winding up extra-fast and pitching as hard as I could. I’m embarrassed now about my immaturity and unkind actions, but the one good thing to come out of this was my extraordinary concentration. I was determined to strike out the hitters. I fired a strike, then another and another. Strikeout! I continued my angry display and struck out the next guy. By then, I was secretly happy, but I didn’t want anyone (including myself) to know that I wasn’t still ticked off. So, I kept doing what was working and I struck out the final batter. My concentration and my intention were so strong, nothing was going to stop me.
On a broader scale, there are many brilliant people who have come right out and made some grand statements about that dry, non-dramatic subject of concentration. Babe Didrikson Zaharias said, “The formula for success is simple. Practice and concentration then more practice and concentration.” Learning to play a musical instrument is a prime example, taking dogged concentration and repetition to get the notes and technique into something a listener can bear to hear. “Concentration is the root of all the higher abilities in man.” Bruce Lee is credited with that quote. The level of concentration for a master of the martial arts has to be far beyond what most of us consider being focused.
I’m pleased I’ve managed to wedge an Arnold Palmer quote into this post. It may never happen again. It’s here mainly because it relates to a documentary I’ve been watching a little at a time about the introduction of yoga into general society by a guru in India early in the 20th century. He made the point that concentration is vital to the practice of yoga. Without it, he said, yoga is just physical exercise. And yoga is far more than exercise. Ramana Maharshi is quoted as saying, “Concentration of the mind is in a way common to both knowledge and yoga. Yoga aims at the union of the individual with the universal, the reality. This reality must not be new. It must exist even now, and it does exist.”
Insight Yoga is a branch of yoga practice under Buddhism. One who practices it works to become acquainted with what they call ultimate reality. From my limited understanding, I think I’m safe in saying the meditator experiencing ultimate reality is witnessing the universe exactly as it is from moment to moment without assigning a warped view based on the conditioning to which we have been subjected as human beings. Concentration at a high level is absolutely necessary if we are to see the world as it truly is.
I’m not a Buddhist, but there is much I agree with in this religion. Buddha is purported to have analyzed our condition as beings and to have presented a workable program to release us from the suffering that life in a body brings. Part of that plan involves the Eightfold Path, steps that when fully applied help a person reach enlightenment. These steps are simplified for our western languages and exploring them extensively is beyond the scope of this blog and my understanding, to be honest. However, I bring it up because of the fact that Buddha emphasized concentration enough to make it one of the steps of the Eightfold Path. Whole, thorough, complete, perfect concentration.
Concentration is a key to success on so many levels–personal, occupational, mental and spiritual. Don’t sell yourself short. Use your power of concentration for the good of all. Life will blossom.