How to Develop Appropriate Concentration
If we wish for a mind at peace, we need to learn to focus on an object of meditation, using a wholesome concentration technique. Buddha stated that appropriate concentration is dependent on the development of all the aspects of the eightfold path:
"Now what, monks, is appropriate concentration with its supports and requisite conditions? Any singleness of mind equipped with these seven factors — appropriate view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort and mindfulness — is called appropriate concentration with its supports and requisite conditions."
Stay focused on cause and effect. Whatever intentional actions you do — be it with your body, speech or mind — will create a reaction in the future. Remain aware of this fact whenever you perform any intentional action.
You also have to stay focused on the impermanence of everything, or you may find yourself getting attached to experiences, relationships and ideologies. We tend to have a fixed and solid sense of self, which is not an accurate view and may also cause suffering in the long run.
Our intentions should be to help ourselves and others. To achieve this, we have to remain centered on what is motivating us. We must ensure the three poisons — anger, attachment, and unawareness — aren't driving our minds. It's important to ensure we are free of ill will; otherwise, the actions of our body and speech will reflect that. Reflecting on what motivates you will ensure you do not intentionally harm yourself or others.
Often, we open our mouths before engaging the brain, and because we are not focused, what comes out can be harmful, unkind, and unhelpful. We lie, use divisive speech, utter harsh words, and gossip with such ease; it is frightening.
It is as if our mouth has a life of its own. To counter this, we have to concentrate on our speech. Lying is never going to help anyone. When we use divisive speech, we are not making friends; we are just causing divisions. Using harsh words to someone's face will hurt them, and gossiping is a waste of time. So, we have to use the appropriate level of concentration toward our speech, and then we will learn to talk in a way that is both helpful and kind.
Practice directing your attention toward the actions of your body. This will prevent killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and other harmful acts. Buddha advised his son, Rahula, to reflect on any deeds he was thinking about carrying out in this way:
Is the deed going to cause harm to yourself or others? If so, do not do it, as it is a lousy deed entailing suffering. However, if you reflect on the deed and it will be helpful to yourself or others, or at the very least, not harmful, you should do it again and again, as this is a good deed entailing happiness. Thus, we must be sure we are entirely in tune with our actions to know when we are helping or harming others.
We have to ensure our work does not bring harm to anybody. Making weapons, selling illegal drugs, testing on, or killing animals for meat or sport, are examples of jobs that harm others. If we do not concentrate on the harm our livelihood is creating, we may end up hurting people, animals, plants and the planet.
Appropriate Effort and Mindfulness
Use mindfulness and intention as you move throughout daily life. If we do not concentrate our effort on all the steps in the eightfold path, we could become lazy or distracted, which could lead to us harming someone or something. If we do not focus our minds on the present moment, our thoughts may drift back to the past or jump forward to the future. Neither of these is helpful.
Concentrating on the present moment will make our minds calm and our actions kind and helpful.
When our mind is not focused, it flaps around like a fish on dry land. It simply cannot stay still and jumps from one idea to another, from one thought to another; there is no control. Such a distracted mind is consumed by worries and concerns about what has happened or may happen in the future. It doesn't see the whole picture and distorts reality.
A trained mind in concentration can remain focused on its object without any distractions. This allows the mind to become calm, transparent and open. This relaxed openness can then be taken off the meditation cushion and used in the outside world. This will allow us to remain single-mindedly aware of all stages of this path in a wholesome way.
Practice building your focus and concentration with this class, Daily Focus and Concentration by cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. David Vago.
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