peace.paz.selam

“One-Pointed Attention” from Passage Meditation by Eknath Easwaran

In Profile: People Places & Things of Peace on December 3, 2009 at 12:09 am

I’m incredibly blessed to have wonderful people in my life who learn and know amazing things and in turn from time to time share these amazing things with me. This particular wonderful thing, I think, is an incredibly important message for all of us to hear, especially today. For this I thank you, Rahel.

-peace.pace.selam

—-

One-Pointed Attention

If we want to live in freedom, we must have complete mastery over our thoughts. For nearly all of us, it is just a euphemism to say we think our thoughts – actually our thoughts think us. They are in command, and we unwittingly serve them.

Let us imagine that you are a student and have just settled down to study for your finals. You have everything you need – sharpened pencils, textbooks, class notes, calculator, and a willing spirit – and you know you must really work at it because there is a lot of material to absorb. Turning to your economics text, you begin to read about the law of supply and demand . . . Suddenly, through a door on the far edge of your consciousness, a desire comes creeping in. It smacks its lips and whispers, “How about a pizza?” You have a serious purpose – these finals count – so you courageously reject the temptation and return to your reading. But the door is open now, so in rushes a memory of last week’s rock concert, followed by a daydream about the swimming party next weekend. Again you return to your reading . . . or try to.

This question arises: if what you want to do is study, aren’t these thoughts intruding without permission? Well, then, why don’t you ask them to leave? We must face an unpleasant truth – they won’t go. They know you’re not the master here. And so there you sit, with half your mind on your studies, half on other things.

Suppose you find yourself troubled by some worry. It is a little thing, you would be the first to admit, but you can’t shake it off. You go to a movie, thinking that will give you a fresh perspective, but the worry follows you and gnaws away at your consciousness like a mouse. Or perhaps you are sometimes possessed by song lyrics or bothered by a forgotten name; or you may play over and over again in your mind the tape recordings of pleasant and unpleasant moments, like that day at the ocean four years ago or the time Mary Sue snubbed you at the class reunion.

Or possibly more serious matters. A major error in judgment at work, carelessness that ended in injury for yourself or someone else, the memory of someone separated from you by estrangement or death, paralyzing fears and self-doubts, missed opportunities, debilitating addictions, envy and jealousy, a failure of will or some ethical lapse – how horribly any of these can haunt us; how they make us feel we have taken up residence in a sepulchre, far from the light and joy of day.

In all these common cases, the mind lacks an essential condition for clear thinking and smooth functioning: one-pointedness. In Sanskrit, this is calledekagrata. Eka means “one”; agra means “point” or “edge.” “One-pointedness” is a very vivid expression, because it assumes quite accurately that the mind is an internal instrument which can either be brought to a single, powerful focus or left diffuse. Light, as you know, can be focused into an intense beam through the use of reflectors. But if holes and cracks lace the reflecting surface, the light will spill out in all directions. Similarly, when the mind is diffuse and many-pointed, it cannot be effective. The mental powers are divided up, and less remains available for the task at hand.

Training the Mind  | 

Though our mind may be three-pointed or four-pointed or a hundred-pointed now, we train it to be one-pointed in meditation. This remarkable discipline brings all the powers of the mind to an intense focus. We can say that it seals all our mental cracks and then sends the vital energy that was seeping out to the single point on which we have put our attention. As our meditation deepens, we shall discover that where we thought we had only a tiny, rather leaky light, we actually possess a tremendous beacon that can instantly illumine any problem.

In meditation we train the mind to be one-pointed by concentrating on a single subject – an inspirational passage. Whenever the mind wanders and becomes two-pointed, we give more attention to the passage – over and over and over again. It is certainly challenging work, but gradually the mind becomes disciplined, taking its proper place – not as the master of the house, but as a trusted, loyal servant whose capacities we respect.

Consider the practicality of having a disciplined mind. If you haven’t trained your mind and you feel, for example, some resentment towards your neighbor, you may say, “Don’t be resentful, my mind.” But the mind answers superciliously, “To whom are you speaking?” When very angry, you add a “please,” but the mind only responds, “You haven’t taught me to obey you; why should I now?” And the mind has a case. If, however, you have learned to meditate and made your mind one-pointed, you have only to say, “No, my friend,” when the mind gets unruly. There’s the end of it. If the disturbance stems from a negative emotion like resentment, you will be able to draw your attention away and the distress will immediately be lessened. If it is actually a problem with a solution, you will be able to take some action later on to work it out.

In the Katha Upanishad we find a brilliant simile likening the mind to a chariot. Untrained horses can break away and run where they will, here and there, perhaps leading us to destruction, and what can we do about it? But trained horses – horse lovers know the delight of this – respond to even a light touch of the reins. Similarly, the mind well trained in meditation responds to a light, almost effortless touch. If the memory of a hostile act done to us by our partner tries to force its way in, we can eject it by turning our full attention to the many loving acts our partner has done in the past. Here we are refusing to be pulled about relentlessly by our thoughts – we are thinking them in full freedom. This is what the Buddha meant when he said, “There is nothing so obedient as a disciplined mind – and there is nothing so disobedient as an undisciplined mind.”

The Benefits of One-Pointedness  | 

The one-pointed mind, once we have obtained it, gives us tremendous loyalty and steadfastness. Like grasshoppers jumping from one blade of grass to another, people who cannot concentrate move from thing to thing, activity to activity, person to person. On the other hand, those who can concentrate know how to remain still and absorbed. Such people are capable of sustained endeavor.

I’m reminded of a story about a great Indian musician, Ustad Allauddin Khan. When Ravi Shankar, the sitarist, was a young man, he approached Khan Sahib for lessons, passionately promising to be a diligent pupil. The master turned his practiced eye upon Ravi and detected in his clothes and manner the signs of a dilettante. He said, “I don’t teach butterflies.” Fortunately, Ravi Shankar was able after many months – a test of his determination – to persuade the master to reconsider. But we can readily understand the teacher’s reluctance to waste his precious gift on someone who might jump from interest to interest, dissipating all his creative energies.

People who cannot meet a challenge or turn in a good performance often suffer from a diffuse mind and not from any inherent incapacity. They may say, “I don’t like this job,” or “This isn’t my kind of work,” but actually they may just not know how to gather and use their powers. If they did, they might find that they do like the job, and that they can perform it competently. Whenever a task has seemed distasteful to me – and we all have to do such things at times – I have found that if I can give more attention to the work, it becomes more satisfying. We tend to think that unpleasantness is a quality of the job itself; more often it is a condition in the mind of the doer.

The same may be said for boredom. Few jobs are boring; we are bored chiefly because our minds are divided. Part of the mind performs the work at hand and part tries not to; part earns his wages while the other part sneaks out to do something else or tries to persuade the working half to quit. They fight over these contrary purposes, and this warfare consumes a tremendous amount of vital energy. We begin to feel fatigued, inattentive, restless, or bored; a grayness, a sort of pallor, covers everything. How time-conscious we become! The hours creep, and the job, if it gets done at all, suffers. The result is a very ordinary, minimal performance, since hardly any energy remains with which to work; most of it goes to repair the sabotage by the unwilling worker.

When the mind is unified and fully employed at a task, we have abundant energy. The work, particularly if routine, is dispatched efficiently and easily, and we see it in the context of the whole into which it fits. We feel engaged; time does not press on us. Interestingly too, it seems to be a spiritual law that if we can concentrate fully on what we are doing, opportunities worthy of our concentration come along. This has been demonstrated over and over in the lives not only of mystics but of artists, scientists, and statesmen as well.

The Secret: Attention  | 

If we are to free ourselves from this tyrannical, many-pointed mind, we must develop some voluntary control over our attention. We must know how to put it where we want.

It is a sad fact that most people have little control over where their attention goes. That is why, for instance, billboards succeed so well. Advertisers know that we will not be able to pull our eyes away from those signs. Our associates may claim they are the masters of their faculties, but we have only to ride with them down a highway to see how easily their attention is snatched away and messages slipped into their consciousness. No matter how repugnant to our values and good sense, all those signs rush in, simply because we have no control over our attention.

Or watch people reading in libraries. When somebody walks by – perhaps every few seconds – many people will lift their heads to watch. This is hardly a willed act; their attention simply runs about wherever it wishes. If we allowed our children to run about like that in a public building, we would earn looks of condemnation. But you can see attention running amuck everywhere.

Divided attention can lead to physical exhaustion too. Have you ever been completely worn out by a busy day of shopping, or by a visit to a museum in which you tried to cover everything from the Egyptian room to the French impressionists? Being on your feet is part of it, of course, but allowing attention to shift rapidly from one sensory object to another depletes your vital energy and gives you very little in return. Probably you didn’t give either the mummies or Monet the appreciation they deserve; about all you can say is that you have seen it all.

A famous specialist of the brain, Dr. Wilder Penfield, remarked that if he had his life to live over he would devote it to the study of human attention. For one thing, this faculty is intimately bound up with perception. Do you know the old proverb, “You are what you eat”? We can ring a variation on it by saying, “You see what you are.” What you see in front of you is not precisely what is there, nor all of it, as any scientist will tell you. Vision depends on a complex internal process, one element of which is desire. What motivates us receives our attention, and whatever has our attention is what we see.

Ask four people what’s happening on Main Street today. A businessman, just returning from a Rotary luncheon at the Livingstone Hotel, says, “Big crowd at Delfini’s today. That guy sure knows how to move merchandise.”

The elderly schoolteacher says, “Oh, something nice! Mr. Delfini’s nephew George is working in the store now.”

A teenage girl tells you, “Delfini’s is having this really neat sale.”

And the teenage boy: “Wow, did you see those girls coming out of Delfini’s?”

These people are simply reporting what they saw; their attention went automatically to the subject of their interest.

When through the practice of meditation we have gained a measure of control over our desires and learned to direct our attention where we want, the world will appear very different to us. More and more we will see things as they are, our vision unimpeded by compulsive attachments. Not only will we see the colors, textures, and shapes of things with greater clarity, but we will see the principles of harmony and order – or lamentably, in some cases, man’s violations of these principles – in the objects and situations before us. So striking is the transformation in our ways of perceiving that Sri Ramakrishna, the nineteenth-century mystic of Bengal, speaks of growing “new eyes” and “new ears.”

In a glorious outburst Thomas Traherne, the English mystic, tries to put into words the marvelous, ever-fresh appearance of the world to one whose eyes have been opened:

The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold . . . . The green trees, when I saw them first through one of the gates, transported and ravished me; their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap . . . . Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels . . . . Eternity was manifested in the light of the day, and something infinite behind everything appeared.

Our attention, then, is a most precious faculty. It matters greatly what we do with it, because whatever we place our attention on, be it good or ill, is encouraged to flourish. If someone comes late to a public gathering and everybody turns to stare, they magnify the disturbance: they have given it their attention. If they can keep their attention fixed on the speaker, the clatter of the latecomer will be minimized. Similarly, if someone drops a plate or glass, how does it help to interrupt our business to stare? This is why I recommend that you not fight distractions in meditation. If you do, you give them your attention, your vital energy, and they swell up with it and are harder than ever to dislodge.

Involuntary Attention  | 

Occasionally we find people who have been gifted with one-pointed minds and have not had to undergo the strenuous sensory training necessary for most of us. Excellent – it saves a lot of effort – but there can be one potential drawback. Such a person’s mind may fix itself so passionately on the subject of his interest that he cannot leave it even when necessary. As an educator, I am reminded of the professor whose entire concern is with ancient Sumerian or the late diary entries of Samuel Pepys. No matter where he goes, he carries that with him. This is certainly one-pointedness, but it’s not volitional and can lead to poor social relations and minor mishaps.

Many stories are told about Albert Einstein, though I don’t know if they can all be verified. Once, it is said, he received a check for a thousand dollars. A check like that makes a convenient bookmark, and that is how he used it until a librarian found it when the book came back. On another occasion, when someone asked whether he had had his lunch, Einstein replied, “Which way am I walking? If I’m going to my house, I haven’t had it. If I’m coming, I have.” And a passerby once saw him with a huge bulge in the shoulders of his coat; he had put it on without bothering to remove the hanger.

Einstein’s contribution to science is so immense that this total absorption in his work seems more amusing to us than consequential. But for others it can take on a grimmer aspect. I remember reading about a man driving home from Carmel with his friends when he realized he had left his camera on the beach. He turned his car around and raced back at a terrific speed to retrieve it. His mind was fixed on that camera; he had to have it back. Tragically, he forfeited his life in an accident. So as we train ourselves to be one-pointed, we should strengthen our discrimination and will at the same time, so that we know where to put our attention and how to shift it when necessary.

One Thing at a Time  | 

If, as is the case for nearly all of us, our minds are indeed diffuse, how do we develop this valuable capacity of one-pointedness? The first step is the systematic practice of meditation, which is the perfect way to learn this skill. There is another valuable aid too: to refrain from doing more than one thing at a time, to abandon totally our habit of trying to perform several operations simultaneously.

I learned this emphatically when I was still a teenager. My uncle, my English teacher, had just introduced me to Washington Irving. I had read about Ichabod Crane frightened nearly to death by his own imagination and was well into the tale of Rip Van Winkle one morning when it was time for breakfast. I brought my book and set it down beside the plate of rice cakes and coconut chutney. Chewing absentmindedly on the rice cakes, I read about poor Rip’s reception by the village children when he returns after that long snooze. My grandmother, who had made the rice cakes with great love, just walked up quietly and took my plate of food away. I had not been aware of the taste, and for a few moments – I was really absorbed – I must have kept on lifting an empty hand to my mouth, because I heard her say, “You haven’t got anything in your hand.” I looked down for the plate . . . it was gone! Then she added, “This is poor reading. This is poor eating.” I learned to put some distance between Washington Irving and rice cakes.

For a similar sight on this side of the world, visit Montgomery Street in the financial district of San Francisco. The favorite lunch of these financiers and would-be tycoons is not a Caesar salad or a club sandwich but a big serving of the Wall Street Journal. They may have some food on their plates, but all their attention is on the stock quotations, and that is what really goes in. You can see the same thing – different newspapers, of course – at soda fountains, truck stops, and coffeehouses.

Perhaps you know people who try to split their attention by reading books or newspapers even when they eat with their family or friends. It seems an inconsiderate thing to do, because it shuts other people out. In fact, I’ve seen a few who deliberately lift their newspapers up like a big shield which they hide behind so they won’t have to see or be seen, talk or be talked to. But wouldn’t those who love you rather look at your countenance – doleful as it may be some mornings – than at a full-page advertisement about saving seventy-three dollars by flying to Minneapolis on an after-midnight flight?

One-Pointedness & Learning  | 

Take a walk through any college cafeteria and you will find students engaged in several activities at once. There may be one reading a textbook, having a cup of coffee, listening to music, and looking up every few minutes to see who is passing by – all at the same time. That is not one student; that is four quarter-students. All the powers of the mind have been divided up, and nothing is done with true absorption or true relish. I even saw a kind of circus feat on one occasion. A young fellow had a cigarette dangling from his lips – barely – while he sipped from his coffee cup!

Some students buy big bags of potato chips or nuts to snack on while they study in their rooms. Read a sentence or two, nibble. Read a sentence or two, nibble. Then, having interrupted the flow of logic in the text, they have to keep going back and rereading. Great progress is made in emptying the potato chip bag, but not much progress in mastering the subject. I have to confess that I have even seen teachers divide their attention in this way by bringing a pile of student papers to the conference room and setting about to correct them while a meeting was going on. Some, too, play radios in their offices while they read, when they should be illustrating for their students the ways of a dedicated teacher.

Anyone who deliberately divides his attention will find it more difficult to achieve mastery. Isn’t it obvious that learning requires concentration? The really bright student understands this naturally. When he sits down to read and drink a cup of coffee at the same time, the coffee gets cold. If he has a cigarette in the ashtray it smokes away untouched – the best thing that could happen to it. If music is playing, he won’t hear it. Such students stay completely concentrated and unaware of their surroundings. If you touch them or call them, they may not even know it.

You may remember Larry, the young American hero of Somerset Maugham’s fine novel The Razor’s Edge. The narrator tells us that when he entered the club library one morning, he saw Larry seated and reading with complete attention. When he left, probably in the late afternoon, Larry was still there, deeply absorbed, not having even changed his posture. Here, evidently, is someone with an unusual bent of mind, someone destined to excel in whatever activity he takes up. Later on, we find that nothing less than a spiritual awakening will satisfy Larry, and he begins his search with impressive singleness of purpose.

One-Pointedness & Enjoyment  | 

Any person who has a great love for an art will scrupulously avoid splitting his concentration by doing two things at once. Take the lover of music. In a matter like this, you don’t go by what people say – most people will claim to be devotees of music – but you watch them. True lovers of music will instinctively close their eyes when they are listening because they don’t want any of their consciousness to be diverted. If you sit in a concert continually glancing around, your awareness is scattered; if I may say so, you’re not only listening to the music, you’re watching a movie too.

On the other hand, I’ve gone into bookstores and reading rooms and heard music being played. In such places there should be complete silence. Respect for the book we are reading demands it; even respect for the music demands it. The theory behind the use of music in such places is that it relaxes people. Music may relax people, but not when they’re reading. The Buddha summed this up in his usual down-to-earth way when he said, “When you are walking, walk. When you are standing, stand. When you are sitting, sit. Don’t wobble.”

Some time ago I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company stage Romeo and Juliet. The uncle of mine that I mentioned earlier introduced this play to me in my high school years, and one of the last communications I sent him before he shed his body was a program from this performance, with my thanks for passing on to me his great love of Shakespeare. The play began; I was completely concentrated. Fine actors and actresses all, and I responded very much to their delivery and to the beauty of the language and action.

Then came the famous balcony scene that touches everybody. No matter how blasé or hard-boiled you are, that scene will take you back to the bittersweet days when you were capable of such feelings. Juliet came onto the balcony; Romeo stood below, breathless with expectation. “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” The theater fell perfectly still.

Then I heard the words, “Where is the candy, please?” I know Shakespeare rather well, but – “Where is the candy, please?” I thought my memory must be slipping or that they played a different text than the one I’m used to. Perhaps Juliet wants to test Romeo’s love . . . he should have brought candy if he wished to woo her.

Then I heard it repeated with more urgency, “Quick, where’s the candy?” What a strange thing to be on Juliet’s mind! Suddenly I thought I detected a California accent – and sure enough, two high school girls seated next to me were having this competitive exchange with Romeo and Juliet. My grandmother’s assessment applies here: these girls hadn’t learned how to appreciate Shakespeare or how to enjoy candy.

Lovers of God possess intense concentration, as the biographies of the saints and sages show. In prayer, in adoration, in deep meditation, their attention rivets itself so completely onto the Beloved that nothing can tear it away. Even a suggestion of the divine – the Holy Name, an altar or relic, the sight of someone standing in a posture associated with an incarnation of God – may draw them into a higher state of consciousness. Occasionally this can be somewhat inconvenient, and it is said that one Italian mystic used to hide a little joke book in the sacristy so that when he said mass he could keep one foot on mundane ground and be sure to get the words out.

We read, too, that Sri Ramakrishna once went to see a religious drama produced by his disciple Girish Ghosh. He was very fond of Girish and of the play, so he sat right up front. The curtain went up, and a character started singing the praises of the Lord. Sri Ramakrishna immediately began to enter the supreme state of consciousness. The stage faded; the actors and actresses faded. As only a great mystic can, he uttered a protest: “I come here, Lord, to see a play staged by my disciple, and you send me into ecstasy. I won’t let it happen!” And he started saying over and over, “Money . . . money . . . money,” so as to keep some awareness of the temporal world.

Most of us obviously have the opposite problem: too little concentration. But we can learn to magnify our concentration by assiduously practicing this discipline of doing only one thing at a time. When you study, give yourself entirely to your books. When you go to a movie, concentrate completely on that; don’t eat popcorn or talk to people. When you listen to music, do that and that alone. You will get more out of these activities, and your meditation will prosper.

I believe it a disservice to mix extraneous matters into our jobs too – a disservice to ourselves, to our employers, and to the work. The only way to draw out our deeper resources is to use fully what is presently available to us. Snacking, reading magazines, listening to music, gossiping, solving crossword puzzles, or making astrology charts at work divides and enervates our mental powers. Our conditioning alone leads us to believe that a divided mind is efficient. If we can unify our mind, we will see for ourselves that concentration breeds efficiency while division brings inefficiency, error, and tension.

One-Pointedness & Safety  | 

Whatever the work, one-pointed attention averts mistakes and costly accidents. When you use powerful tools or dangerous instruments in the kitchen or shop, to provide an absolute measure of safety you should be totally concentrated on the task. I use the word “absolute” deliberately, and in the matter of safety I think we should strive for nothing less. It is not enough if we can say “This seems fairly safe” or “I think I can do that.” We need a higher standard where the physical security of our body and the bodies of others is concerned.

What a pity to reduce safety by pointless distractions, such as blaring radios and irrelevant conversation. When you are in the kitchen, for example, cutting vegetables with an exceedingly sharp knife, is that a time to discuss who is going to win this year’s Oscars? If you must discuss the Best Picture of the Year, put your knife down, get the other person’s full attention, and then cast your vote.

Similarly, when operating a high-powered machine like a power saw or a Rototiller, you should not let your attention waver from the machine even for an instant. If someone enters the work area to talk to you, let him wait until you have finished that particular phase of the operation and can either shut the machine down or remove your hands and body from the hazardous zone. I hope you will see that this is actually good manners, and that it would be bad manners to whirl around suddenly and present someone an injured hand.

We can also further the one-pointedness of those operating machines by using caution in approaching them. It threatens their safety to rush into the work area or to shout near them or touch them. If it is essential that you talk with them, I suggest you try to edge slowly into their field of vision and wait until they are free. Anything that causes them to jump or lose their concentration can produce an accident.

I have noticed too that people go in for all kinds of talk while driving: political debates, quarrels, complex plans, jokes, anecdotes, even games. The driver should drive; the others can silently repeat the mantram. It’s not just conversation; phones, music, radio programs, and even movies are common companions on the road. What a lot of distraction for the driver! Think of the serious consequences of it. Wouldn’t you grieve if you seriously injured someone and knew that just an extra bit of vigilance might have made the difference? Simple reason demands that we recognize what we are doing: when we hurl our fragile bodies encased in several thousand pounds of steel down the highway at more than fifty miles per hour while others – who may be emotionally upset or very tired or even intoxicated – are coming at us at similar speeds, isn’t it obvious that every bit of available attention should be used to avoid collisions? Anything less than full attention is simply irresponsible; it doesn’t matter if we have managed to get away with it for any number of years.

It is incumbent on us not only to practice one-pointedness ourselves when we drive, but to help others to do it too. If you are a passenger, don’t distract the driver. It may be true that the unhappy fellow has never seen a purple cow, and lo, one is grazing by the road – but then, if in the interest of reality I may be a bit grim, he may never have seen the inside of a hospital emergency room either, and it is far better to see neither sight than both.

Passing One-Pointedness to Others  | 

Often we can gracefully remind people of this principle of one-pointedness. If someone talks to you while doing something else, you can say, “I’ll wait until you are finished.” If they are performing several tasks at once, you can say, “You seem to have your hands full; may I help?” Even a little playfulness might be appropriate. When you go to a film, you can gently reprove your friends with the old line, “I can’t hear what you’re saying for the noise they’re making on the screen.” Above all, our own example will instruct others.

Dentists, naturally enough, try to entertain us by chatting while they work. I had a very friendly dentist who wanted to reduce my awareness of the pain. I appreciated that, but I told him straight out that to show his affection for me he should attend to my teeth. I’d take care of the pain if he’d take care of my molars. He liked being free from the obligation of dental gossip.

Have you noticed how easily people become distracted when they are conversing? Their eyes roam about to their shoes, or the clouds, or passersby. Their hands flick about, picking imagined lint off their sleeves or drawing streaks on their moist coffee mugs. Their minds work up what they’re going to say next, or, worse yet, pass over a number of irrelevant topics. When you listen to someone, listen with complete attention. In the Zen tradition the meditation teacher tells his students, “Listen to me with all your ears, and don’t take your eyes off me.” Good advice. If your boyfriend begins telling you about the last chapter of his Great American Novel, as yet unwritten – keep both eyes on him so firmly that even if a peacock struts into the room fanning his tail, you won’t notice. And when you admire the plumes of a peacock, give them all your attention, to the degree that you don’t even hear the words of your would-be Melville.

Since children are less developed intellectually, we sometimes give them only a portion of our attention, believing that will satisfy their needs. We read a few paragraphs about the Middle East in a news magazine and then look up to say, “Oh, you’re building a castle. That’s nice.” Then we jump back around the globe. The divided mind becomes a model for them, and we can be sure it registers on some level. It also underestimates the capacities of children. When they play, they are not just passing time but learning, and we can help by giving discreet assistance when needed. If we have not been alert to their progress, we will err by failing to step in at the timely moment – or, worse, by interfering at the wrong moment. Children require a certain context for growth, and that includes, whenever possible, the presence of a loving adult fully alive to the situation and not one who has been pressed into custodial care.

We need to respect the child’s one-pointedness. Even in infants, though the span may be very short, attention can be intense. Preschoolers are capable of remarkable concentration. I have read that a child in nursery school, having discovered a new operation with blocks, will perform it again and again as many as fifty times in total absorption. The table on which the blocks are resting and the chair with the child in it can even be moved across the room without disturbing this involvement.

Concentration Is Consecration  | 

Developing a one-pointed mind as suggested here will enrich your life moment by moment. You will find that your senses are keener, your emotions more stable, your intellect more lucid, your sensitivity to the needs of others heightened. Whatever you do, you will be there more fully. Entering a home, you won’t slam the door because you will be there to hear it. You won’t so easily trip or spill things or bump into people because you will be aware of your movements. You won’t forget things, because now your mind is engaged. You won’t become mentally fatigued, for you are conserving your powers. You will not be fickle or vacillating because you will have healed the mind of its divisions. And perhaps most precious of all, you will not ignore the distress or joy of others, because in looking into their eyes you will be looking truly into their hearts.

Achieving this precious – I might say wondrous – one-pointedness will also greatly facilitate meditation and speed our progress on the spiritual path. Meditation is concentration, and concentration becomes, finally, consecration. As our absorption grows, we shall come to see that possessions, evanescent pleasures, fame, and all the power in the world can never satisfy us, but only that which is full of love and wisdom, that which does not pass. When we let our minds become scattered, we are but leaves on the surface of the lake of life, far from the infinite reality. When we unify our minds, we plunge deeper and deeper into that reality and move ever closer to the Lord.

Click here to read the other chapters from Eknath Easwaran’s book and learn more about the practice of meditation.

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