Concentration: Why practice being aware?

Concentration: Why practice being aware?

Concentration Without an Object: Part I

Concentration without an object could also be called sitting here awake without our attention/awareness landing on any particular thing (a sound, a sight, any sensation, a thought, or an emotion) What is the experience when the inward gaze (awareness) is not focused on any one thing?

Imagine the feeling of sitting like a majestic lion on a plateau overlooking a vast plane viewing a far horizon that is endless. Your lion-gaze would never have a landing place.

Concentration without an object is like this.

We could say concentration without an object is like after looking through a window, the window frame is removed as well as the walls and ceiling. There are no longer boundaries or frame. Another way you might get a flash of this is to imagine yourself as a caged bird, hanging in space. Suddenly one side of the cage is removed and now there is access to open space. Then the next and the next and the next sides are removed. Is the cage a cage or is it space? Finally, the floor and top are removed and there is only space.

Concentration without an object can feel like this: just space, but space that is knowing, space that is conscious. Rumi, talking about this awakened space-state says,

“This is not a day for asking questions, not a day on any calendar. This is a day conscious of itself.”

Murshid says, “We cover our spirit under our body, our light under a bushel. We never allow the spirit to become conscious of itself.”

In concentration with an object we practice keeping our attention on one object like breath which provides a landing place, a reference point for non-distraction. The point is not that we are learning to pay attention to the breath, but more that we are using the breath to pay attention to so we are not distracted. We are practicing non-distraction and using paying attention to the breath as a tool. In concentration on an object the task is to steer attention back to the breath as soon as we see we have become distracted.

In concentration without an object, we pay attention to nothing particular at all. When we squeeze attention into focusing on any one thing, as soon as this is recognized, we drop the object (thought, feeling, sensation) back into the space field.

The best way to rest awareness on no particular thing is to let go of control and don’t try to make anything be different than it is right now.

Rig Veda: “Two birds inseparable companions perch on the same tree, one eats the fruits and the other looks on.” In this meditation, practice being the looking-on bird, even though in truth there is ultimately only One Bird, “I am Everything”.

How do we do this? Just see everything that is happening. Remember to be seated in your heart, not far out in space remotely viewing. It is like you are in your heart ocean viewing your own waves.

Tips

  • Spend a few minutes concentrating on breathing until you feel settled (more or less).
  • Take your seat in your heart and set your intention to practice as best you can.
  • Take up a gaze like a lion looking into a vast plane with an ever receding horizon: the infinity gaze.
  • Do not let your awareness land on anything particular, but when it does and you notice, immediately drop the object (thought, sensation, emotion) back into space.
  • Pay most attention to the space and let everything else happen, come and go.
  • Practice letting go of control, and allow what is happening to happen.
  • Hands off. Let life happen.

Developing the ability to focus our attention at will is a critical skill needed in spiritual practice and in awakening from our unconscious habitual patterns that basically form our experience of life. By practicing concentration on an object we gradually gain the capacity for steady attention which allows awareness to be free from absorption in constant mental activity. This freedom from utter identification with our conditioned mind opens the door to the discovery of Who I Am, Self-knowledge.

When we are unaware and living in habitual patterns we will have the same results of discomfort and problems over and over again. We will be reacting to life rather than responding. We will not have agency in our lives so nothing will change.

When we develop our capacity to have steady attention, we are no longer buffeted here and there by the constant flow of mental activity, but rather as Ken McLeod, a Buddhist teacher phrases it, (can) step out of a life of reaction and habituation into a life of presence. The energy of active attention penetrates the patterns, disrupts their operation and eventually dismisses them.

Ordinary consciousness is almost always focused on something. The default brain mode is do something: but to know what to do our brain needs to be constantly evaluating the situation. Our brain automatically answers yes or no, and moves towards or away from the experience. It has three automatic options: (1) try to get more of what we think will make us happy (pleasure), (2) get away from what we are afraid of or is unpleasant, (3) deem that what is occurring is unimportant so remain neutral.

Our whole life is based on this default brain mode. This is the ego life. When we stop enacting this activity in our outer life, we continue the dynamic in a more subtle form while sitting in mediation. Automatic classification is just the way our brain operates. Part of meditation skill is cultivating the ability to sit in the seat of the witness, the seat of open neutral observation.

Rig Veda Samhita says: 1.164. 20 “Two birds associated together, and mutual friends, take refuge in the same tree; one of them eats the sweet fig; the other abstaining from food, merely looks on.”

Discovering witnessing consciousness, gradually over time, trains us to disengage from the incessant mental judging activity and allows us to abide in being.

Concentration Without an Object: Part II

Concentration

All this creation is not created of anything that is outside of the consciousness. It is consciousness itself which has involved a part of itself in its creation while a part remains as Creator, as water frozen turns into ice and yet water abides within and the ice lasts only for the time that it is frozen; when light reaches the ice it turns into water, its original element. So it is with consciousness; all things have been created out of it, and when their time of existence is finished all return and merge into it.
Hazrat Inayat Khan, Vol. 5, Part 3, Manifestation

Concentration without an object is a meditation practice that develops our capacity to distinguish awareness from mind activity. We will be using the terms awareness and consciousness interchangeably for now.

Until we can differentiate awareness/consciousness from mental processes through the act of witnessing (observe mind movement from a neutral stance), we cannot know our operating system. Without this knowledge we will not have the ability to choose the way we want to live our life, we will only be living out the early conditions and impressions covering our True Self.

We have three main motivations in spiritual practice: being able to live authentically and creatively, give and receive love, and become the temple of God (infinite being).
In the wake of so much recent violence in the world, I have been rereading Marshall Rosenberg’s Non Violent Communication system. It’s quite clear that if everyone  on earth could learn to speak to each other in this mode we would have a much more peaceful world. However, even to begin to communicate in a nonviolent manner, we have to be aware of our inner states and feelings. Awareness is critical.

In concentration without an object we are learning to become aware of the consciousness dimension of our being. As mentioned, although there are subtle differences, we are using the terms awareness and consciousness interchangeably. Hazrat Inayat uses the terms consciousness and intelligence similarly, awareness with an object is consciousness and without an object is intelligence.

What is consciousness? When we say: ‘ a loaded gun,’ we mean that there is a bullet in it. Consciousness means the loaded intelligence, intelligence charged with knowledge, with impressions carrying ideas. When we speak of moving pictures, where are they? On the screen; but we do not see the screen, we see moving pictures. Consciousness is pure intelligence, which is impregnated with some idea, which is conscious of something. And what is intelligence? Intelligence is the soul; there is no other trace of the soul to be found except the intelligence. Very often people, not understanding, say the seat of the soul is in the heart, or in our right or left side; but in reality there is something more expressive than any side of our body, and that is intelligence. Vol.4 Mental Purification and Healing/The Expansion of Consciousness

Whatever term we use, the point is – through the practice of concentration without an object, we can begin to learn to directly know the aspect of ourselves that is pure knowing-awareness, luminous self-knowing beingness presence normally disguised or hidden behind our ordinary dualistic thinking. Our egoic mind experiences self and other, our consciousness knows oneness. Awakened consciousness is not a belief or a matter of faith, but rather mystical direct knowing. In Sufism this is called certainty of Yaqin.

Getting Help

The best teacher or the right teacher for the individual at any given level of development is the teacher who can facilitate the next step. From the student’s point of view, the most advanced teacher is not necessarily the most constructive one. If the factual distance between two perspectives is too great, communication and education will be much impeded, and the occasional fruitful exchange may even become impossible.

The three old tried and true tenants are:

An authentic teacher is the door.
A true teacher is found in the heart.
A right teacher is the next step.
Jes Bertelsen

New Rain Online: Concentration without an Object – June 2022 and Our Spiritual Practice – July 2022

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