Step 2: Focusing the Mind
Goals for step 2:
- Continue your regular, daily meditation practice in your special spot.
- Exercises: stilling your mind, and focusing it through concentration.
- Reading: Chapters 3 (stilling the mind) and 4 (concentration) from the handout
- Learn how to meditate with your eyes open.
A New Awareness
In your meditation during the first week, did you have the following experience? The moment you tried to quiet your mind, it filled with a million thoughts!
You were probably shocked at just how rambunctious your mind is. And you may have become a bit discouraged as a result. Don’t be discouraged! This is a universal experience.
Step back for a moment, though, and think about it—unless you had meditated before, this was probably the first time you had ever really noticed your thoughts. And if you were actually aware of your thoughts, that means that you have a higher, deeper consciousness that is separate from your mind. This is a great achievement! You have already reached a level of awareness beyond what most people will achieve in their lifetime.
You are probably still wondering why it is that you seem to have more thoughts as soon as you start to meditate. In reality you don’t.
Imagine that your mind is a car travelling down the highway at high speed. When the windows are closed, you’re flowing along with the car, and you don’t have much of a feeling for how fast you are actually going. However, if you open the window and put your head outside, what happens? Wham! You get hit in the face by a blast of air, and you suddenly have a very good sense of how fast you are going. The question is, was the blast of air always there, moving that fast? The answer, of course, is yes.
This is exactly what happens when you first try to quiet your mind. In your ordinary day-to-day awareness, you are flowing along with your mind’s thoughts, and you’re not aware of how many thoughts there are and how fast they are going. But as soon as you start meditating, it’s as if you put your head out of the car window and you get hit by a blast of thoughts. Were the thoughts always there? They were, only you weren’t aware of them.
So if you are trying to meditate and you become aware that you are having millions of thoughts, don’t worry. That awareness is exactly what you need. Once you are aware of your thoughts, only then can you gently bring your focus back to your breath, or the candle, or to whatever it is you are focusing on during your meditation.
But will my mind ever become quiet?
Yes! Remember, you are trying to discipline a mind that has been free to roam for a long time. And as you have discovered, it is impossible to shut it off all at once. That’s why you will be focusing on concentration this week. By concentrating the mind, you may still be thinking, but at least you are thinking about only one thing, and it will be you that is directing your mind, not vice versa.
Your muscles respond to regular exercise. In the same way, as you continue your daily meditation practice, your mind will become more disciplined and the number of thoughts you have will diminish. But try not to evaluate how well you are doing; you can be sure that if you are practicing regularly you are making solid progress.
If you find it difficult to deal with the flood of thoughts during meditation, you can use some simple imagery. Think of your consciousness as the vast ocean or the limitless sky, and your thoughts are like fish swimming or birds flying by in the distance. The important thing is to feel that the thoughts are insignificant, and that you don’t have to follow them.
So please be patient. With regular practice, you will definitely notice positive changes not only in your meditation, but in your day-to-day life as well.
Meditating with your eyes open
Up to now you have been meditating mostly with your eyes closed. This week you will practice concentration and meditation with your eyes open. By concentrating your mental focus on an object such as a candle or a flower, you will learn to anchor your mind and curb its tendency to wander.Like many beginners, you may find that you are distracted by the everyday noises around you. There are a couple of ways to deal with this problem:
- You could go into a soundproof room every time you meditate—not very practical!
- Meditate early in the morning when there is less going on in the world.
- Learn to integrate noises into your meditation by allowing them to pass by—the best solution of all, because then you will be able to meditate anytime, anywhere, no matter what is going on around you.
Learning to detach yourself from noises takes time and practice. But once you can detach yourself from noises and meditate with your eyes open, you will possess a powerful tool to change your consciousness at a moment’s notice. And once you can change your own consciousness, you will also have a positive effect on the consciousness of those around you.
Let’s look at a brief example to see what a powerful effect your consciousness can have on the world. Imagine for a moment that you have just arrived at work half an hour late after fighting traffic for an hour. You’re in a really bad mood, and as a result you yell at your co-worker Joe for no reason. (Yes, we know that this would never happen to you, but just imagine for now.) Now Joe is in a bad mood. Joe goes home and yells at his wife, who yells at the kids, who in turn yell at the dog. The next day Joe’s family takes their anger out on others, and soon your one action has negatively impacted a large number of people.
Now imagine that you have just arrived at work a half hour late after fighting traffic for an hour, but this time you meditate for a few moments to bring peace and harmony into your being. You smile at Joe and say something to brighten up his day. He goes home, hugs his wife and kids, and pets the dog. They all feel loved, and the next day they spread this love - which started with you - to the people around them. This circle of love spreads until your consciousness has had a positive impact on a great many people.
Now that you are familiar with breathing exercises, we can introduce some concentration exercises. You can still use the exercises from Week 1 if you like them.
Also, you can use your favourite exercises from Week 1 for a couple of minutes at the beginning of the concentration exercise - once you have calmed your mind and body with your breathing exercises, begin the concentration exercises from Week 2.
The following exercises are all taken from Sri Chinmoy's writings.
1. Concentration exercise - The dot
If you want to develop the power of concentration, then here is an exercise you can try. First wash your face and eyes properly with cold water. Then make a black dot on the wall at eye level. Stand facing the dot, about ten inches away, and concentrate on it. After a few minutes, try to feel that when you are breathing in, your breath is actually coming from the dot, and that the dot is also breathing in, getting its breath from you. Try to feel that there are two persons: you and the black dot. Your breath is coming from the dot and its breath is coming from you. In ten minutes, if your concentration is very powerful, you will feel that your soul has left you and entered into the black dot on the wall. At this time try to feel that you and your soul are conversing. Your soul is taking you into the soul's world for realisation, and you are bringing the soul into the physical world for manifestation. In this way you can develop your power of concentration very easily. But this method has to be practised. There are many things which are very easy with practice, but just because we do not practise them we do not get the result. - Sri Chinmoy
Exercise 2: Concentration - focus on a flower
For this exercise you will need a flower. With your eyes half closed and half open, look at the entire flower for a few seconds. While you are concentrating, try to feel that you yourself are this flower. At the same time, try to feel that this flower is growing in the inmost recesses of your heart. Feel that you are the flower and you are growing inside your heart. Then, gradually try to concentrate on one particular petal of the flower. Feel that this petal which you have selected is the seed-form of your reality-existence. After a few minutes, concentrate on the entire flower again, and feel that it is the Universal Reality. In this way go back and forth, concentrating first on the petal—the seed-form of your reality—and then on the entire flower—the Universal Reality. While you are doing this, please try not to allow any thought to enter into your mind. Try to make your mind absolutely calm, quiet and tranquil. After some time, please close your eyes and try to see the flower that you have been concentrating on inside your heart. Then, in the same way that you concentrated on the physical flower, kindly concentrate on the flower inside your heart, with your eyes closed. - Sri Chinmoy
Exercise 3: Become the soul
In order to purify your mind, the best thing to do is to feel every day for a few minutes during your meditation that you have no mind. Say to yourself, "I have no mind, I have no mind. What I have is the heart." Then after some time feel, "I don't have a heart. What I have is the soul." When you say, "I have the soul," at that time you will be flooded with purity. But again you have to go deeper and farther by saying not only, "I have the soul," but also "I am the soul." At that time, imagine the most beautiful child you have ever seen, and feel that your soul is infinitely more beautiful than that child. The moment you can say and feel, "I am the soul," and meditate on this truth, your soul's infinite purity will enter into your heart. Then, from the heart, the infinite purity will enter into your mind. When you can truly feel that you are only the soul, the soul will purify your mind. - Sri Chinmoy
4. The inner flame
Before you meditate, try to imagine a flame inside your heart. Right now the flame may be tiny and flickering; it may not be a powerful flame. But one day it will definitely become most powerful and most illumining. Try to imagine that this flame is illumining your mind. In the beginning you may not be able to concentrate according to your satisfaction because the mind is not focused. The mind is constantly thinking of many things. It has become a victim of many uncomely thoughts. The mind does not have proper illumination, so imagine a beautiful flame inside your heart, illumining you. Bring that illumining flame inside your mind. Then you will gradually see a streak of light inside your mind. When your mind starts getting illumined, it will be very, very easy to concentrate for a long time, and also to concentrate more deeply. - Sri Chinmo
We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act,
But a habit.
Week 2: Summary
During this second week, you will have:
- Read chapter 3 and 4 of the handout.
- Practiced the recommended meditation exercises for at least ten minutes daily - preferably at the same time each day.
- Logged your practice and your experiences in the journal.
Nothing is Happening!
By now you’ve probably had a whole range of experiences in your meditation. No doubt there were some days—perhaps many days—when it felt like nothing was happening. Is this a problem? No. As long as you are meditating regularly, something is definitely happening deep within, whether you are aware of it or not. Remember, you’ve only meditated a few dozen times so far; if by now you had expected to be transported to an altered state of consciousness, or to have eliminated all negative emotions from your life, you are bound to be disappointed.
Expectation (and the frustration that follows from it) is a big hurdle at this stage. The most important thing is to be happy with the fact that you are making progress.
Hopefully there were a few days when you felt something. It may have lasted for only a second or two, but that’s okay—that one second can change your entire day. There’s no magical milestone in your practice after which you will be able to meditate perfectly every time. Rather, as time goes on, there will be more and more moments during your meditation when you feel something happening inwardly, and these moments will increase in length.
Trust Your Soul
Every day when you meditate, your soul is being fed. And on any given day, your soul knows exactly how much and what kind of food it needs to make the most progress. The experiences you have during meditation will be determined by what your soul wants that day. So, if for a few days you have a certain experience during your meditation and then it disappears, you are not going backwards. Trust your soul and realize that it wants something else. If you regularly meditate and sincerely aspire for higher consciousness, you will have experiences that are far beyond your imagination.
Trust the Gardener
Have you ever looked at a plant, and without even checking the soil, felt the plant was “crying” for water? When that happened, what was your immediate reaction? You probably said to yourself (or to the plant), “I’d better give that plant some water right away.” The plant played its role by crying for water, and you played your role by fulfilling its need.
You are that plant. And there is a Gardener who planted the seed of aspiration deep within you. Sri Chinmoy refers to it as your Inner Pilot - the inner being that you can feel right in the middle of your chest. When you meditate, you are crying to your Inner Pilot to feed your inner being with the light of self-discovery, so that you may grow into a beautiful flower or a towering tree. Don’t try to force yourself to make progress—your only responsibility is to have this inner cry. It is the Gardener’s responsibility to feed you. Have faith in the Gardener.