Concentration Of Mind

MANY years ago I invented another simple experiment to help some of my students to gain that control of mind which is called concentration. This has proved itself, I think, to be the very best means to that end. Let me ask the reader or student now to try this experiment for himself in the following form—

Select a quiet place, where you can be undisturbed for about fifteen minutes. Sit down quietly and turn your thought to some simple and agreeable subject, such as a coin, a cup of tea, or a flower. Try to keep this object before the mind's eye.

After a few minutes, if not sooner, you will, as it were, suddenly awake to the realization that you are thinking about something quite different. The reasons for this are two: the mind is restless, and it responds very readily to every slight disturbance from outside or in the body, so that it leaves the subject of concentration and gives its attention to something else.

Now, the way which is usually recommended for the gaining of greater concentration of mind, so that one can keep one's attention on one thing for a considerable time, is to sit down and repeatedly force the mind back to the original subject whenever it wanders away. That is not, however, the best way to attain concentration, but is, in fact, harmful rather than beneficial to the mind.

The proper way is to decide upon the thing on which your attention is to be fixed, and then think about everything else you can without actually losing sight ofit. This will form a habit of recall in the mind itself, so that its tendency will be to return to the chosen object whenever it is for a moment diverted.

Still, it will be best of all if, in trying to think of other things while you keep the chosen object in the centre of your field of attention, you do so with the help of the four Roads of Thought, in the following manner—

Suppose you decide to concentrate upon a cow. You must think of everything else that you can without losing sight of the cow. That is, you must think of everything that you can that is connected with the idea of a cow by any of the four lines of thought which have been already explained.

So, close your eyes and imagine a cow, and say: "Law I —Class," and think: "A cow is an animal, a quadruped, a mammal"—there may be other classes as well—"and other members of its classes are sheep, horse, dog, cat— " and so on, until you have brought out all the thoughts you can from within your own mind in this connexion. Do not be satisfied until you have brought out every possible thought.

We know things by comparing them with others, by noting, however briefly, their resemblances and differences. When we define a thing we mention its class, and then the characters in which it differs from other members of the same class. Thus a chair is a table with a difference, and a table is a chair with a difference; both are articles of furniture; both are supports.

The more things we compare a given object with in this way the better we know it; so, when you have worked through this exercise with the first law and looked at all the other creatures for a moment each without losing sight of the cow, you have made brief comparisons which have improved your observation of the cow. You will then know what a cow is as you never did before.

Then go on to the second Road of Thought—that of Parts—and think distinctly of the parts of the cow—its eyes, nose, ears, knees, hoofs, and the rest, and its inner parts as well if you are at all acquainted with animal anatomy and physiology.

Thirdly comes the law of Quality. You think of the physical qualities of the cow—its size, weight, colour, form, motion, habits—and also of its mental and emotional qualities, as far as those can be discerned. And you think of other objects having the same prominent qualities.

Lastly comes the fourth division, that of Proximity, in which you will review "Cows I have known," experiences you have had with cows which may have impressed themselves particularly on your imagination. In this class also will come things commonly connected with cows, such as milk, butter, cheese, farms, meadows, and even knife handles made of horn and bone, and shoes made of leather.

Then you will have brought forth every thought of which you are capable which is directly connected in your own mind with the idea of a cow. And this should not have been done in any careless or desultory fashion; you should be able to feel at the end of the exercise that you have thoroughly searched for every possible idea on each line, while all the time the cow stood there and attention was not taken away from it.

A hundred times the mind will have been tempted to follow up some interesting thought with reference to the ideas which you have been bringing out, but every time it has been turned back to the central object, the cow.

If this practice is thoroughly carried out it produces a habit of recall which replaces the old habit of wandering, so that it becomes the inclination of the mind to return to the central thought, and you acquire the power to keep your attention upon one thing for a long time.

You will soon find that this practice has not only given you power of concentration, but has brought benefit to the mind in a variety of other ways as well. You will have trained it to some extent in correct and consecutive thinking, and in observation, and you will have organized some of that accumulation of knowledge which perhaps you have for years been pitching pell-mell into the mind, as most people do. This exercise, practised for a little time every day for a few weeks, exactly according to instructions, will tidy or clean up the mind, and also lubricate it, so as to make it far brighter than it was before, and give it strength and quality evident not only at the time of exercise, but at all times, whatever may be the business of thought on which you are engaged during the day.

One of the most fruitful results will be found in the development of keen observation. Most people's ideas about anything are exceedingly imperfect. In their mental pictures of things some points are clear, others are vague, and others lacking altogether, to such an extent that sometimes a fragment of a thing stands in the mind as a kind of symbol for the whole.

A gentleman was once asked about a lady whom he had known very well for many years. The question was as to whether her hair was fair or dark, and he could not say. In thinking of her his mind had pictured certain parts only, or certain part vaguely and others clearly. Perhaps he knew the shape of her nose, her general build and the carriage of her body; but his mental picture certainly had no colour in the hair.

The same truth may be brought out by the familiar question about the figures on the dial of your friend's watch, or about the shape and colour of its hands. One day I tested a friend with this question: "Can you tell me whether the numerals on your watch are the old-fashioned Roman ones which are so much used, or the common or Arabic numerals which have come into vogue more recently ?"

"Why!" he replied, without hesitation. "They are the Roman numerals, of course."

Then he took out his watch, not to confirm his statement, but just in an automatic sort of way, as people do when thinking of such a thing, and as he glanced at it a look of astonishment spread over his face.

"By Jove," he exclaimed, "they are the Arabic figures. And do you know, I have been using this watch for seven years, and I have never noticed that before !"

He thought he knew his watch, but he was thinking of part of it, and the part was standing in his mind for the whole.

Then I put another question to him: "I suppose you know how to walk, and how to run ?"

"Yes," said he, "I certainly do."

"And you can imagine yourself doing those things ?"

"Well, then," said I, "please tell me what is the difference between running and walking."

He puzzled over this question for a long time, for he saw that it was not merely a difference of speed. He walked up and down the room, and then ran round it, observing himself closely. At last he sat down, laughing, and said: " I have it. When you walk you always have at least one foot on the ground, but when you run both feet are in the air at the same time."

His answer was right, but he had never known it before.

Life is full of inaccuracies due to defective observation, like that of the schoolboy who, confronted with a question about the Vatican, wrote: "The Vatican is a place with no air in it, where the Pope lives."

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