Concentration is an excellent practice, especially as a precursor to meditation. Setting aside time for concentration exercises can also help concentration during everyday life. The mind is like a muscle: by attaining some discipline over our thoughts the mind will be of better service to us, in the same way that the body’s fitness helps us with physical activities.
Regular daily practice for a short time is better than trying to force or strain the mind for long stretches of time. As with any exercise, try to build up gradually. If you find you get distracted, try not to be frustrated or to give up, but just go back to what you were trying to focus on. Remember this is not an easy thing you are trying to achieve, but over time you are sure to see the improvements and reap the benefits.
Exercise: The Candle Flame
- Light a candle in a safe place, and focus your attention on the flame. You can either choose the whole flame, or just the tip.
- Imagine nothing else exists except that flame. Try to tune in to all its qualities, such as brightness, warmth, upward movement. Take note of the colours and the quality of the light.
- Then close your eyes and try to imagine a flame inside the centre of your chest – a warm flame that will not harm or burn you.
- Then imagine the flame is illumining your mind. Bring the flame into your mind and try to see a streak of light there.
- Go back to the outer flame and again concentrate on the tip or on the qualities. You may now find it easier to concentrate than the first time, having allowed the flame to illumine your mind.
- Practice every day for a few minutes and feel the flame inside you getting stronger each time. It may be small or flickering at first, but try to see it growing brighter and more steady each day.
“When you concentrate, whether you are in your mind or in your heart or in your entire being, think of the whole world as smaller than the smallest. Just feel that the entire world is tinier than the tiniest. Then your mind will not act like a vagabond or a stray dog. If you take the world as something very vast, then your concentration can never, never be effective. But if you take the entire world as a tiny thing, absolutely as small as your fingertip, then your concentration will be most powerful.”