Concentration: The Prerequisite of Meditation

by Joshua Tilghman on September 2, 2013

Concentration and MeditationOver a month ago I wrote an article entitled, Pray Without Ceasing. The title of my post was a quote from the Apostle Paul. In that post we discussed what “praying without ceasing” really meant: a form of meditation.

Since that article I have had many readers ask me exactly how to meditate and why it works. Today’s article will begin a three-part series to break down the process of meditation and exactly how it works towards the development of the soul. Some of my regular readers will have heard some of this before, but you will find a lot of new information by the time we get to part three.

To properly understand why meditation works, readers should be aware that ancient spiritual teachers discussed through matter a little different than textbooks in the twentieth century. For example, Jesus said in my father’s house (all the worlds of matter) are many mansions. By mansions Jesus was referring to different centers of consciousness that we all operate through. Few people have their consciousness centered in the higher mental planes while most of us have it centered in the lower mental and emotional planes. The point is, there are many different mansions of existence. Where the center of your consciousness resides is the room of the mansion that you live in.

Proper meditation can help move one’s center of consciousness to the upper planes, giving one access to expanded consciousness and spiritual maturation. Bread is food for the physical body; meditation is food for the soul. But meditation is poorly understood in today’s world. Part of the problem is that there are so many different schools of thought and complicated terminology that without a teacher, it’s almost impossible to understand what it truly is. I’ll try to make it as simple as possible in this post. We’ll begin by breaking meditation down into three parts. The three parts below consist of a life-time of practice and development, and they are all extremely important to understand and practice in order to attain significant spiritual growth:

1)      Concentration

2)      meditation

3)      contemplation

Today’s post will focus exclusively on concentration. In the next two posts we’ll focus on meditation and contemplation.

Concentration

Concentration is not true meditation, but it is the foundation and prerequisite. We must know that one’s true self is not the mind. The mind is simply a tool to gain experience with. Concentration is needed to sharpen the tool. Without the power of concentration, the mind is weak and undisciplined. It is a weak tool.

Conquering the five senses, of which Jesus speaks so much about, is part of concentration. If we are continually caught up in engaging external stimuli, we become slaves to it. Not only does one need to take control of one’s emotions, but one also needs to take control of one’s thoughts. It has been said that most people’s minds are like ships at sea without a rudder. The wind and the waves are your thoughts and emotions, and the ship is you. Life simply happens to you. You have little conscious input and direction. However, when someone gains the power of concentration, it’s like building a strong rudder than has the power to steer the ship even amongst a fierce storm. The true power of the soul cannot shine in the mind of the weak and undisciplined because higher more distant shores can never be reached.

It should also be pointed out that weak minds easily succumb to temptations that are many times detrimental to our spiritual development.

So what is concentration? Concentration is the ability to focus the mind on one idea or thought process—and hold it there. As a teacher, I see this as a great problem among our elementary school children. There are so many ADHD meditations prescribed every year to help quiet the minds of these children who are so influenced by external stimuli. Some of these children cannot even finish a short picture book or write a small paragraph without their medication because their thoughts are constantly steering them in other directions. It’s too bad that children aren’t taught to concentrate at young ages. The more one practices concentration, the easier it becomes. This is how mental matter works. The brain is not where thoughts originate. Thoughts originate in the mental body. Our physical brains are simply conduits. Through the power of concentrated will, one can begin to make impressions on mental matter that are more easily held in the brain. We’ll talk about why this is the case in a moment.

How Can We Improve Concentration?

Many meditation practices that are taught today are in fact concentration practices. They are a part of meditation, but only the first step. One of my favorite activities for improving concentration is focusing on the breath. This type of so-called meditation is often taught for beginners because is sets the mind up for more advanced meditation later on.

To focus on the breath, get in a quiet spot and focus your attention somewhere on your body as you breathe. For example, you may wish to focus on your abdomen as it gently moves in and out while breathing, or you may wish to focus on the wind entering and leaving a specific point in the nasal passage. Your specific place of attention is not so important; it is your ability to choose a point of attention and then keep your focus there that is more important.

Sometimes I recommend counting up to twenty or thirty as your practice focusing on the breath. Each inhale and exhale counts as one. Once you reach your desired number, simply go backwards and count back down with each inhale and exhale.

In the beginning stages, you don’t want to do this too long if you are a beginner. If your head begins to hurt or feel too heavy, lessen the time of your practice.

Along the path you are going to slam into many obstacles. Remember, the mind tends to wander. The reason this is the case is because of the past mental habits you have formed over a lifetime in the mental body. A lifetime of wandering thoughts became a habit that seemingly has a consciousness and will of its own. But don’t fret; in time your will find that you crave longer and longer periods of concentration as you begin to break down the mental habits storied up in your mental body. Breaking these mental habits allow you to develop spiritually and stay more physically healthy.

Developing the power of concentration isn’t just a prerequisite for more advanced stages of meditation. It also helps you to complete tasks and goals in everyday life more efficiently. You may find that work gets easier. You might even reach greater levels of productivity. You might not seem as tired as you accomplish tasks as well.

True concentration shouldn’t become a strain on the mind. Once you achieve some success practicing it, you will see that although concentration is an active process rather than a passive one, it shouldn’t feel like a strain because it consist of resting the mind quietly on one task or thought. As you break former mental habits in the mental body concentration will seem more like rest rather than work.

Once these mental habits are broken through developing concentration power, you will be ready for another stage of spiritual development: meditation. That will be the topic of our next post. Once we look at meditation in more depth, you will easily come to understand why concentration has to be developed first.

I am back at school so my time is limited again. Obviously some weeks will afford more blog time and some weeks might not afford any, but my overall goal is to average one to two posts a week over the long term, so if you don’t see a post for an entire week or two, it just means I will be playing catch-up the following week with two or three consecutive posts.

Part One / Part Two / Part Three

Blessings!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Raymon September 3, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Will like to comment on the good job on your blog. Very informative and helpful for any truth seeker not afraid to question boundaries …

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anny September 6, 2013 at 6:18 am

Hello Joshua,

I have read that there are many different types of meditation and not every type is suitable for everybody. Like not everyone follows the same path on the way to enlightenment.

Some time ago I read a book by Karen Armstrong about Compassion and how important that is. I agreed with her for 100% about the goal to reach for but could not do anything with the methods she proposed. There were perfect for someone with her qualities but no good for me at all. Her approach is more cerebral, she is highly intelligent with an almost photographic memory. I am intuitive and get sudden insights but my memory is not all that good. For me it is all about the essence and details only interest me when they are absolutely necessary and once I get their essence I forget them (so I can never explain how I got them). In spite of these differences we got to exactly the same conclusions because our interest came from the heart.

I think it is the same with meditation. I agree that that is very important, although maybe different types for different people, but for some people maybe prayer works better, even if it is a prayer to your higher self; or contemplation.

I think I am one of those people. Whenever I meditate it is really more about contemplation and prayer, even if that prayer might be just a way to raise my own state of consciousness if you understand what I mean. I have tried meditating by focussing on my breath but the only result is that I start hyperventilating.

I agree with you about the importance of concentration and I use it when contemplating, but also when reading a blogpost like yours a.o. or writing a comment. Often it does take me into another level of consciousness and I write things I never thought of before because of it. They are not necessarily the result of study although things I studied do come up but often it goes further than that. In all of the above I clearly feel a different and higher energy, sometimes even uncomfortably so when it gets too high as it were, compared to my usual level.

And on a lighter note: ADHD meditation?

Anny

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Zero L. Spacer September 15, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Love the website, BTW. I have bee looking for mystical/alternative views of the bible that uncover its secrets.
I say this with love, but I feel your instructions for meditation complicates the matter. You don’t have to learn anything first like concentration–which in our world, is misleading since we have a mental definition of the word, for one thing. Meditative “concentration” is simple a by-product of meditation–when the mind/body is more and more relaxed, the consciousness can truly channel an idea or thought or image or energy. Flipping it around puts up a barrier for many people; it confuses the matter, IMO. Meditation is very, very simple. It is only the mind which complicates it, and man has come up with a million ways to make “meditation” difficult.
I think it is more productive to think of meditation as not a certain state you are trying to achieve. This delays success. Meditation/prayer is right NOW. That’s it. Be here now. Instead of resisting anything you are feeling, allow everything within you to be experienced. Now.
The future doesn’t matter. There are two directions. Towards spirit/god, and away from spirit/god. Right now, if you allow, you open to the spirit and get more. If you keep doing that, everything else will be added unto you.
If you want to sit and do nothing, that is a good way to start. Meditation is just doing nothing. Prayer is just doing nothing. That’s it. It is just hard for our mentally conditioned mind’s to grasp such a counterintuitive idea.
When you stay in that superrelaxed state even when you are taking action or busy, that is a great blessing.
Mental approaches to meditation are unwieldy and misleading–eventually they will have to be dropped, so why not drop them now? If you just sit and do nothing, just be comfortable, God does everything. I have found that my breathing automatically does what it needs to do. ALl the breathing techniques etc originally derived from spontaneous action, inspired by the spirit. I have found myself doing “breath of fire” when just standing and letting my body be spontaneous. The spirit is intelligent. It is so much easier to just give in and inspiration take over. A little listening.
“God wants you to do nothing.”
One of my favorite verses is in Luke 10, where Martha is running around trying to serve Jesus and the guests, while Mary is is just soaking up his presence. Jesus says that she chose the best. Immediately afterwards–the very next verse!– his disciples beg him to teach them to pray like John the Baptist taught his followers. Jesus complies, and we get the Lord’s Prayer. But the primacy of feminine prayer, meditation, is clear in the text. It is receptive, feminine. It is listening. It is easy. “My yoke [yoga-same word] is easy, my burden is light…”
I think the beauty of the Christian way is that it is the easy way, the way of the heart. I am not speaking against yoga or other practices, only pointing the differences in paths. All paths are valid, all lead to the same destination. It is all beautiful. 🙂

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Joshua Tilghman September 16, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Zero,

I do appreciate you taking the time to place this comment. It is true that meditation should not be complicated. It is simple, and we don’t have to understand it in order for it to work in our lives. But many ancient teachings taught that concentration had to be developed first. The mind has to be settled and at peace before it can truly begin meditating. Many people must learn concentration first to get them into this position. I have had a lot of people contact me and state that they dislike meditation simply because they see how unruly their mind is when they begin. They get frustrated and give up. Concentration is helpful for them in the beginning because it gives them the direction they need to eventually relax and settle down later for a deeper mediation experience.

Zazen meditation has always emphasized the power of concentration first (joriki) before moving on to other types of meditation. The greatest theosophists also agree.

There are many different types of meditation and schools of thought. No one right way is the best for everyone. However, I feel that concentration is necessary for some beginners.

I love your interpretation with Jesus, Martha, and Mary! Good stuff.

Blessings!

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