More Concentration

IN view of the great value of concentration of mind, I will now give some exercises—not by any means to be imposed on the student, but useful perhaps as playthings for him at odd times.

1. Sit down in your room and look round carefully, noting all the little things which it contains. Now close your eyes and make all those things go before your mind in imagination, until the entire procession has passed by. If you know an alphabet of foreign forms, such as the Devanagari, the Arabic, or the Russian, make the letters pass one by one in procession before your imagination until the whole series is complete. If a break occurs in the series, begin again.

2. Take a walk in imagination, along a familiar road or street, noticing all the details that you can remember as you slowly pass them by; return by the same route. If the attention wanders from the path that you have chosen for your walk, make it come back and begin the walk over again from the beginning.

3. Pass in imagination through some previous experience of your own. Suppose, for example, you have risen in the morning, taken breakfast, gone to college, listened to a lecture, worked in the library, returned to lunch, and so forth, through all the general incidents of the daily round.

4. Select some particular sight or sound that is present, say the ticking of the clock. Ask yourself what is the cause of that. It is due to the swinging of the pendulum and the movements of the spring and wheels. But what causes all these ? Try to run back along a" series of images, following the clock back in its wanderings; see how it was placed in position, how it travelled to where it is, where it came from, how its parts were put together and made, where and by whom, how its materials were procured. Imagine all that has contributed to make it what it is. It does not matter very much whether your imaginings in this practice are right or wrong; the exercise will train the mind to run through a series of coherent imaginings without missing the point.

5. Go out for a walk in imagination, as you did before, along some familiar way, but on coming to a selected building or scene, stop and examine it. Try to picture it in detail. If you find that the mind begins to tug in its efforts to get away, move about into different positions every few moments and try to picture the scene from these different points of view. You will probably find that you know very little of the details of the buildings or the scenes with which you thought yourself quite familiar.

In this exercise dwell with perfect gentleness upon the scene you are trying to recall, as though you were trying to remember a fading dream. It is not success in recalling that is the important thing in these exercises, but the development of mind that comes from trying. Stop when you are tired.

6. Look carefully at the wall of the room in which you sit; notice everything about it, the objects that are fixed upon it or are standing against it, the form, size and proportions of everything connected with it. Now shut your eyes and try to picture the whole at once. You will find the image hazy and indefinite. Imagine then various small parts of it in turn, and you will see how much clearer these are.

Again, picture to yourself the figure of a man. You1 will probably find it indefinite, but when you look at one small portion of the image that part will become clear while the rest will tend to disappear. If you make a hand or foot clear, the head will vanish; if you make the head clear the lower part of the body will have gone. Whatever may be the image that you examine in this manner, some part of it will elude you, and when you look at one portion the others will grow faint or even disappear. Practise, therefore, the following method of mind-painting.

Take a picture of a human face. Place it before you and examine a small portion of it, say an eye. Close your eyes and think of that portion. Repeat this several times, until you can form it clearly. Now take another part near to the first—say the other eye—and concentrate upon it in the same manner. Next recall the first eye and make an image of the two together. Now deal with the nose in the same way, separately, and then picture together the two eyes and the nose.

Compare your image with the original every time, and go on adding part after part until you can imagine the whole face without great effort. In one sitting you may succeed in reproducing only one or two features; it will take time to complete the portrait. If you thus do even one picture perfectly, you will find a great increase in grasp of imagination.

You will find it a great help in making such a mental picture, to see that all the details within it are congruous with one another. For example, you might picture a cart drawn by two horses, but if you attempt to imagine it as being drawn by two kangaroos you will find the matter much more difficult. It is not possible to hold two disconnected images or ideas before the mind at the same time, but it is possible to grasp them at once if the main idea includes both at the same time, or something common to both.

I can picture a kangaroo and a horse together by centring my attention on their common characteristics and thinking of both as animals. I can picture a horse and cart together because they occur together in common experience as a unit having a single purpose. But it would be comparatively difficult to hold together the ideas of a kangaroo and a cart. The mind would tend to run from one to the other, losing sight of each alternately. If, however, some common relationship were discovered and made the centre of attention, the two ideas would readily cling together, instead of repelling each other by their incongruity. It is useful therefore to find the idea which makes the group really a unit, and make that the centre of your attention.

7. Select a picture of any pleasant scene. For example, a Hindu might choose the well-known picture of Shri Krishna in the form of a boy seated on a rock, playing a flute, while in the background happy cows graze on the bank of a peaceful river, beyond which a range of tree-clad hills protectively encloses the gentle scene.

Take such a picture; examine it carefully; close your eyes and reproduce it in imagination. Now begin to narrow down the view, and observe how much clearer the scene becomes as you diminish its extent. First drop the clouds and the mountains in the background, then the trees and the river and the cows which are grazing by it, and so on little by little until you have nothing left but the form of the boy. Go on slowly in the same way, making the image clearer and clearer as it grows smaller, until you have lost the rock and have only left the upper part of the body, the head and the face.

Hold that image for a moment, and then begin to expand it again, trying to keep the whole as clear as the small piece to which you had contracted it, and as you build up the entire picture again, point by point, make every effort to retain for the complex unit the clearness which you were able to secure in one small portion of it.

8. Place some pleasant and familiar object, such as a small statue in front of you, at a little distance, preferably in the middle of the room. After examining it, close your eyes and imagine it clearly from the position where you are, as you would look at it.

Next imagine it from the back, not by turning it round in your imagination, but by transferring your idea of yourself to a point on the opposite wall. Imagine yourself not to be sitting where you are, but against the opposite wall, looking at the object from the opposite side.

When you have both images well made—from the front and the back—try to imagine them both at once, as though you were looking at the object from both sides at once. To do this effectively you will need to get rid of the idea that you are facing the object from one point of view, and imagine yourself as on both sides of it, regarding it from both directions at once.

This exercise can be extended to the above and the below, if desired. It teaches us at least to remember that usually we have a very limited point of view. Even an artist— a good observer—rarely thinks of the roots of a tree or the shape of its top, as seen from above.

9. Take up now a simple object, such as a flower or a box of matches. Examine it; look into the interior. Close your eyes and imagine it. Imagine that your consciousness is at the centre of the article and that you are looking at it from within. Next, expand your consciousness gradually until you are no longer a point in the middle of the object, but have become a large ball with the object in the middle of yourself.

10. Select an object which you have already used in your exercises in concentration. This time, instead of building the picture up little by little, call it up complete. Command it to appear. If you have used the picture of Shri Krishna, now, with your eyes closed, look into empty space and mentally call out the name of Shri Krishna, trying to discern the form. Suddenly the complete picture will spring up before your mental vision, in idea or in form.

11. Make an effort to think in images, without the use of words. Very often we feel that we do not know a thing until we have succeeded in recalling its name or verbal description, though its appearance and qualities may be quite familiar. Thinking in words is thinking in symbols, and in that there is much danger of missing the truth, for it is easily possible to manipulate and rearrange the symbols in a manner to which the facts would not conform.

As an exercise one might let the following ideas form a succession of thought forms, without words: horse, cow, milk, moonlight, moon, sun. Picture a horse, trying not to think of the name of it. If you now drop the picture and then call up the image of a cow, you will ordinarily have to think the word "cow" between the two. This is the usual process in the chain of thought, name (horse), form (horse), name (horse), name (cow), form (cow), name (cow), name (milk), form (milk), name (milk), and so on. In this practice however, try to leave out the names, and let the picture undergo a continuous gradual change.

Having pictured the horse clearly, begin to modify it. Let the contour of the back, the slope of the neck, the shape of the body, the form of the legs and hoofs, the tail, the setting of the head, and other details gradually change from those of a horse to those of a cow, until the transition is complete. Then proceed to concentrate the attention on the milk which comes from the cow, and gradually lose sight of the parts of the cow until only the stream of milk is seen. Make this undergo a gradual change. Thin out the liquid stream, letting it lose its definite outline and opacity, but retaining the colour though making it paler, and to this nebulous stream add outline and surroundings until you have a stream of moonlight. Next trace the moonlight to the moon in the dark sky, adding this to the picture. Pass away from the moonlight and let your attention centre on the moon itself. Gradually change this form. Let its outline remain but expand, and its colour change, until you have the great goldenred ball of the rising or the setting sun.

Many may think that these practices of concentration involve great effort, but little result. It is not really so. Think of the efforts that you made as a child when learning to write, how long it took you to gain control of your hand and pen. That was a greater effort than this, for, however much the mind may seem to plunge about, it is made of far more yielding and plastic stuff than is your arm or hand, and is therefore easier to control. Indeed it is easier to learn to control the mind than it is to learn to write. Think, again, of the vast number of exercises a violinist will practise to render his fingers supple, obedient, and expert. Give the same, or far less, effort to mental training, and you will surely be delighted with the result. But there should be no physical strain in all this—that is imperative.

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