Welcome and Namaste 🙂
Today is day one of our meditation challenge and I am so glad that you are here. We are exploring one of the main skills that is cultivated in a meditation practice today: CONCENTRATION.
Concentration is really one of the most powerful skills that we gain from a consistent practice and it's a skill found in all lineages of meditation around the world.
In traditional Buddhism, they talk about 2 different types of concentration: Vitakka and Vicara.
You can think of Vitakka as the ability to CHOOSE what you want to pay attention to. It's the practice of finding an anchor to hold attention on, such as the breath. You commit to that anchor, then the mind wanders and you bring it back to your chosen anchor. Again and again and again.
In the process, you are re-wiring your brain and creating the ability to sustain attention or concentration on a given anchor. This is the building of the muscle of concentration. It takes time and consistency, just like any other "muscle" in the body that you can "build."
This is empowering because not only does this practice teach us the skill of concentration, but also we learn that we actually have a CHOICE to choose what to pay attention to, as opposed to simply going where-ever the mind tends to go off to automatically. This is known as one of the main "Freedoms" or "Liberations" of the practice.
Concentration is talked about in many traditions including the 8 limbs of yoga. If you consider yourself a "yogi", you may have heard of the word dharana, or "concentration".
In the practice of dharana, we learn how to slow down thinking by concentrating on a single object: the breath, a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound.
Then, over time and practice the next "state" of concentration, Vicara starts to arise of it's own accord.
It's that state of absorption where you "become one" with your anchor and something happens. It could be there's a pleasurable sensation that arises from experiencing the anchor of listening to sounds. Or perhaps there's a blissful feeling that arises from the repetition of a mantra. There could be a contentment, a quietude, a stillness or an equanimity that arises out of the practice. As the mind gradually slows down and you "sink in" to the practice, these states of meditation start to bubble up and you start to pay attention to a new thing: that state of meditation that is present, your awareness becomes infused in the state of absorption itself.
It's this deeper state of concentration where there's no effort to stay with an anchor any longer. In the 8 limbs of yoga, we refer to this as dhyana (absorption/meditation) which is this uninterrupted flow of concentration. Dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. It's a sort of basking in that state of absorption itself.
Today we are going to explore these concepts in a really light-hearted and easeful way. I'm going to guide a practice with a few different anchors to explore. Then, invite you to choose your own anchor/focal point of concentration that FEELS easiest or most joyful for you.
Making the practice accessible is about finding ways to make it ENJOYABLE, easeful and liberating.
Please let me know in the comments below which anchor you found most accessible.
I'd love to hear a reflection of how the practice made you feel! Just scroll all the way down to the comments to leave your reflection!
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