Aids To Concentration

LET me now give some hints which will make a great improvement in the practice of concentration.

Many people fail in concentration because they make the mistake of trying to grasp the mental image firmly. Do not do that. Place the chosen idea before your attention and look at it calmly, as you would look at your watch to see the time. Such gentle looking reveals the details of a thing quite as well as any intense effort could possibly do—perhaps even better.

Try it now, for five minutes, for when once you have realized how to look a thing over and see it completely—in whole and in part, without staring, peering, frowning, holding the breath, clenching the fists, or any such action, you can apply your power to the mental practice of concentration.

Pick up any common object—a watch, a pen, a book, a leaf, a fruit, and look at it calmly for five minutes. Observe every detail that you can about it, as to the colour, weight, size, texture, form, composition, construction, ornamentation, and the rest, without any tension whatever. Attention without tension is what you want.

After you have felt how to do this, you will understand how concentration can be carried on in perfect quietude. If you wanted to hold out a small object at arm's length for as long a time as possible, you would hold it with a minimum of energy, letting it rest in the hand, not gripping it tightly.

Do not imagine that the idea that you have chosen for your concentration has some life and will of its own, and that it wants to jump about or to run away from you. It is not the object that is fickle, but the mind. Trust the object to remain where you have put it, before the mind's eye, and keep your attention poised upon it. No grasping is necessary; indeed, that tends to destroy the concentration.

People usually employ their mental energy only in the service of the body, and in thinking in connexion with it. They find that the mental flow is unobstructed and that thinking is easy when there is a physical object to hold the attention, as, for example, in reading a book. Argumentation is easy when each step is fixed in print or writing, or the thought is stimulated by conversation. Similarly, a game of chess is easy to play when we see the board; but to play it blindfold is a more difficult matter.

The habit of thinking only in association with bodily activity and stimulus is generally so great that a special effort of thought is usually accompanied by wrinkling of the brows, tightening of the lips, and various muscular, nervous and functional disorders. The dyspepsia of scientific men and philosophers is almost proverbial. A child when learning anything displays the most astonishing contortions. When trying to write it often follows the movements of its hands with its tongue, grasps its pencil very tightly, twists its feet round the legs of its chair, and so makes itself tired in a very short time.

All such things must be stopped in the practice of concentration. A high degree of mental effort is positively injurious to the body unless this stoppage is at least partially accomplished. Muscular and nervous tension have nothing to do with concentration, and success in the exercise is not to be measured by any bodily sensation or feeling whatever. Some people think that they are concentrating when they feel a tightness between and behind the eyebrows; but they are only producing headaches and other troubles for themselves by encouraging the feeling. It is almost a proverb in India that the sage or great thinker has a smooth brow. To screw the face out of shape, and cover the forehead with lines, is usually a sign that the man is trying to think beyond his strength, or when he is not accustomed to it.

Attention without tension is what is required. Concentration must be practised always without the slightest strain. Control of mind is not brought about by fervid effort of any kind, any more than a handful of water can be held by a violent grasp, but it is brought about by constant, quiet, calm practice and avoidance of all agitation and excitement.

Constant, quiet, calm practice means regular periodical practice continued for sufficient time to be effective. The results of this practice are cumulative. Little appears at the beginning, but much later on. The time given at any one sitting need not be great, for the quality of the work is more important than the quantity. Little and frequently is better than much and rarely. The sittings may be once or twice a day, or even three times if they are short. Once, done well, will bring about rapid progress; three times, done indifferently, will not. Sometimes the people who have the most time to spare succeed the least, because they feel that they have plenty of time and therefore they are not compelled to do their very best immediately; but the man who has only a short time available for his practice feels the need of doing it to perfection.

The exercise should be done at least once every day, and always before relaxation and pleasure, not afterwards. It should be done as early in the day as is practicable, not postponed until easier and more pleasurable duties have been fulfilled. Some strictness of rule is necessary, and this is best imposed by ourselves upon ourselves.

Confidence in oneself is also a great help to success in concentration, especially when it is allied to some knowledge of the way in which thoughts work, and of the fact that they often exist even when they are out of sight. Just as the working of the hands and feet and eyes, and every other part of the physical body, depends upon inner organs of the body upon whose functioning we may completely rely, so do all the activities of thought that are visible to our consciousness depend upon unseen mental workings which are utterly dependable.

Every part of the mind's activity is improved by confidence. A good memory, for example, rests almost entirely upon it; the least uncertainty can shake it very much indeed.

I remember as a small boy having been sent by my mother, on some emergency occasion, to purchase some little thing from a small country grocery about half a mile away from our house. She gave me a coin and told me the name of the article which she wanted. I had no confidence in the tailor's art, and certainly would not trust that coin to my pocket. I could not believe, in such an important matter, that the object would still be in the pocket at the end of the journey, so I held the coin very tightly in my hand so as to feel it all the time. 1 also went along the road repeating the name of the article, feeling that if it slipped out of my consciousness for a moment it would be entirely lost. I had less confidence in the pockets of my mind than the little which I had in those made by my tailor. Yet despite my efforts, or more probably on account of them, on entering the little shop and seeing the big shopman looming up above me in a great mass, I did have a paralytic moment in which I could not remember what it was that I had to get.

This is not an uncommon thing, even among adults. I have known many students who seriously jeopardized their success in examinations by exactly the same sort of anxiety. But if one wants to remember it is best to make the fact or idea quite clear mentally, then look at it with calm concentration for a few seconds, and then let it sink out of sight into the depths of the mind, without fear of losing it. You may then be quite sure that you can recall it with perfect ease when you wish to do so.

This confidence, together with the method of calm looking, will bring about a mood of concentration which can be likened to that which you gain when you learn to swim. It may be that one has entered the water many times, that one has grasped it fiercely with the hands and sometimes also with the mouth, only to sink again and again; but there comes an unexpected moment when you suddenly find yourself at home in the water. Thenceforward, whenever you are about to enter the water you almost unconsciously put on a kind of mood for swimming, and that acts upon the body so as to give it the right poise and whatever else may be required for swimming and floating. So in the matter of concentration a day will come, if it has not already done so, when you will find that you have acquired the mood of it, and after that you can dwell on a chosen object of thought for as long as you please.

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