h Phoenix Qi: Daoism on Concentration

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Daoism on Concentration

"Imagination, song, the soaring spirit.

Separate them to know them as aspects of the whole,

Join them to know the mystery of totality.

"The mind, if focused, can become the most powerful force we know. Yet for most of us, we are lost in the vastness of our own uncharted minds. We play around with different aspects, find certain modes that we can get by with, and leave the rest unexplored. Those who follow Tao do not do this. They want to explore all the dimensions of the mind so that they may find a wholly integral mode of consciousness.

"The primary means of exploration is through concentration of the mind. Practitioners first select an aspect and delve into it by daily focus. Only when they have fully understood do they go on. It is like studying. When you are first introduced to a subject, you must put your attention to work in order to master the knowledge. Such concentration leads to absorption, like mixing liquids together in a bottle: Once they are combined, they cannot be distinguished from one another.

"With concentration, all the various aspects of the mind can be joined together into one superconscious mode. Sound is the same as sight, taste is the same as smell, touch is the same as thought, and all that we are is identical with the spiritual energy that resides within us. In this high concentration, there is complete union, and we feel the joy of total integration with all our facets."

"Concentration" from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao


Some years ago here in the U.S. a television commercial solicited money to send young minority students to college. The tag line was "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

When you think about "Concentration," you will realize that you waste so much of your mind on flitting thoughts and idle mental chatter. Concentration seems to be something of the past in this day of multi-tasking where you are typing away either on a laptop computer or a PDA, and engaging in a conversation at the same time.

When was the last time you were driving, eating, and talking on your cell phone all at the same time? I'll bet it was not all that long ago....last week? Yesterday? This morning? When was the last time you were reading a book for pleasure or a bedtime story to your children while mentally going over tomorrow's "To Do" list?

The mind is an amazing thing, but it can think about only one thing at a time. Consider this experiment: You are in a dark room and you must read two papers on related topics, but you can see only one paper at a time. The light that allows you to read the papers is your mind, but it is like a flashlight, able to illuminate only one page at a time. Now, shine your mind (the flashlight) on one piece of paper and read one sentence.

Now, flip the light over to the other piece of paper and read the first sentence. Now, flip back to the first paper and read the second sentence; flip to the second paper and read the second sentence; flip to the first paper and read the third sentence; flip to the second paper and read the third sentence. (I encourage you to perform this little experiment for real and then assess how much of the content of any of those sentences is still in your mind, and how well you can distinguish the writings from the first paper to the second!)

How well did you do? The writings are all jumbled together, aren’t they? Now, multiply the results of the experiment by twelve, fourteen, even sixteen hours each and every day.

This is how you use the “most powerful force we know,” by dividing it and scattering it until it is useless. Think of the most powerful army in the world. How powerful would it be if its forces were divided and scattered all over the globe? (You’ve heard of “divide and conquer,” haven’t you?) Your army would be very weak and ineffective, and so too is your mind when you scatter your mental forces in too many directions, onto too many tasks at once.

Consider the accomplishments of someone you admire; a professional or Olympic athlete perhaps, or a scientist or inventor. Did this object of your admiration rise to the heights of fame or fortune he or she enjoys by flitting from one thing to another? Or, did he or she use dedication, focus, and concentration on his or her chosen task to accomplish the goal?

Spiritual advancement depends as much on concentration as worldly pleasures and accomplishments. There are no short-cuts to enlightenment. This is not what most people want to hear, but it is completely honest and true. Your advancement entirely depends on your level of dedication and devotion.

This is the most important statement in today’s writing: "The mind, if focused, can become the most powerful force we know." If you are completely focused, if you are mindfully dedicated to attaining whatever goal you set for yourself, You Cannot Fail.

There is one very important thing to notice in all of this talk: there is no mention of the emotions. You should not bring your emotions into play when using the power of your mind. Emotions cause you to judge your desires. This often creates inner conflict between what you want to accomplish (earn a million dollars!) and what your past will allow (yeah, sure…in a million years).

If your past experiences lead you to believe you will fail, or you feel unworthy to attain the goal you have set for yourself, the emotions will often find a way to cause you to self-sabotage, thereby leading you to fail.

Do not fall into that trap; leave your emotions at the door when you enter the practice of mindful concentration, and dedicate yourself to attaining your goals and the Dao.

1 comment:

Amit said...

Have you ever noticed though that sometimes the things we totally don't expect or the reverse of what we expect happens...i.e. reverse psychology. I've been thinking about writing a post on that for quite some time!