New and sporadic meditators often complain: “I can’t focus.”
This can be frustrating. However, there is no need to be discouraged. Know that concentration is a product of inward focus. And inward focus needs self-work, not just in one area but in different layers of the self.
Our mind has the capacity to move in to the future and also march back into the past. While this is a blessing as we can plan our future, and recall good memories and learning from the past, it is also an entanglement. This is because of the overuse of this quality. The organs of our senses function in the present and when the mind is in the past or in the future, afflictions arise, focus gets fragmented. This disconnect between body and mind causes distraction.
Busy for Nothing
So, where is the mind mostly? As it hovers back and forth, it is directed outward, to people, outer environment, memories, in planning, fostering fear, stoking negative thoughts and living them on a daily basis, also creating false identification with the negatives.
The identification is so common, that when you self-reflect, you will realise how much energy you expended on it, making yourself miserable and fatigued daily. For example, when one says: “I am a heart patient,” the individual is living the miseries connected with the pain, not just physical and mental but also emotional. In transforming this false identification and instead declaring: “my heart needs some healthy attention”, the emotion, the focus and the action changes.
The Four Attitude
To overcome afflictions and to bring the mind to a tranquil state, one needs to adopt four kinds of attitude in life. Sage Patanjali describes them as: maitrya, karuna, mudit and upkesha, respectively; the feeling of friendship, compassion, delight and indifference.
1. The feeling of friendship towards happiness, meaning, developing friendship with people who are happy, including self. Living in a happy state.
2. The feeling of compassion towards pain or suffering, i.e., having compassion for people who are suffering, including self.
3. The feeling of delight when one displays merit. This refers to commending or applauding when one exhibits good qualities, including self.
4. The feeling of indifference when one shows demerit. This implies being indifferent to one’s bad qualities or negative conduct, including self. Not to engage in criticism.
This doesn’t mean befriending a person who is happy and rejecting others who are not. A single individual can be living all these four aspects, while displaying one aspect dominantly at one point of time. You, yourself are an example of the embodiment of all these four states, exhibiting one aspect as per the experience you undergo.
Practice is the key
To make the mind clear, conflict-free and tranquil for meditation, one needs to cultivate and nurture these attitudinal qualities, which happens through repetitive practice (abhyas).
Just as you practice an asana repeatedly to perfect it, pranayama to negotiate the breath process, similarly, these attitudinal standards have to be practised. Practice is the outcome of discipline. Discipline is the self-work geared towards the outcome you desire: concentration.
Concentration is not physical work. It is a mental framework in which your attitude is situated.
But, since, the focus is constantly directed outwards, self-work seems like a hard work. It is indeed hard work, because the mind is trained to seek fulfilment outside (and unsuccessfully so), therefore, any new change is disagreeable to the mind. The revolt, thus, is natural.
Even the most resolute meditator will face conflicts in meditation first before the state of concentration is experienced. Practice is the answer. If all the contentment were to be found outside of you, you would have got your peace by now. But since you keep seeking it, perhaps your path needs a change. How about taking a route in?
Following are the warnings on lack of focus. Sage Patanjali describes these signs as: erratic breath; when mind is disturbed the breathing pattern will not be deep or rhythmic. Non-stability of the body; a distracted mind can’t keep the body still. A melancholic state of mind and emotional suffering (dukkh). Manifestation of any of these four signs is symptomatic of a distracted mind.
Further to this, yoga sutra names nine obstacles (antaraya) that impedes concentration in yogic practices: Physical ailments, mental lethargy, doubt (suspecting the efficacy of the practice), neglect (giving importance to things that are not so important and vice versa) and sloth. (physical laziness).
The other four includes: stubborn attachment (even while knowing that it is a source of problem), illusions and misunderstandings (of a nature, that include experiences during meditation which might well be delusions and therefore, distractions), unable to reach a state (ex. stillness of mind), unable to sustain a state (ex. stillness of mind if reached).
How can one overcome them? By practicing the four feelings.
(Disclaimer: Urmila Rao is a chakra balancing meditation coach, Theta Healer and a sound therapist. All the ideas expressed herein are her own and not professional advice or medical prescription. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org )