What is Concentration Meditation?
Concentration meditation is an importan practice for the beginner and expert alike. When we first begin meditating, the mind is often scattered. Concentration gives us the ability to focus in on one sensation, thought, or experience. We don’t push everything else away. Rather, we return to the object of concentration over and over again. Deep levels of concentration need a strong mindfulness practice so that we may recognize when the mind has wandered.
Benefits of Concentration Meditation
One of the most obvious benefits of a concentration practice is the increased focus. This helps us at work, at school, driving, and everywhere in-between. Of course, it also is helpful in our meditation. Over time, we’re able to keep our attention on one experience for longer periods without becoming distracted. In meditation, increased concentration allows the mind to tune in more deeply to whatever is being observed. When doing a mindfulness practice, we are able to take this concentration and move it from one experience to another without losing focus.
Right Concentration is one of the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path. Concentration, when practiced wisely, leads to deep meditative states known as jhana. The jhanas are a sequence of states one enters into as concentration goes. There are many opinions and variations on what the jhanas are and how they’re reached. The consensus among scholars and teachers is that they’re reached through concentration, are states free from the Five Hindrances, and lead to great insight.
How to do a Concentration Meditation
If you’re interested in trying a concentration practice, you can find instructions below. Below the written instructions is a short guided concentration meditation free for your downloading and listening.
To begin your concentration practice, find a comfortable position in which to sit. Settle into a posture that is sustainable for the period of meditation. You may bring awareness to the spine, keeping it upright and energized.
You may want to do a brief body scan when beginning your sit. Move through the body from head to toe, and simply bring awareness to each spot. If you notice tension, compassionately invite in some relaxation and ease. This is a great way to arrive in the present time experience, especially at the beginning of a meditation session.
When you have settled, bring the awareness to a single point of focus. Concentration practices are most often done with the breath, but it is possible to use other experiences such as sound, sensations in the body, metta phrases, and more. For this guidance, we’re going to use the breath.
Bring your attention to a point in the body where you can feel the body breathing. The Buddha often suggested using the tip of the nose or the upper lip. In this spot you may feel subtle sensations of the breath tickling the nostrils. You may also use the chest, where the rising and falling of the chest may be felt. Allow the body to breathe naturally. Let go of any ideas about what a good meditator’s breath should look like. Stick to this one point, noticing the continuing sensations related to the breath.
Especially if you are new to concentration practice, I recommend using a counting method. After exhaling, count 1. Inhale, exhale, and count 2. Count up to 8, then begin back at one. Rest the attention mostly on the sensations of breathing and only slightly on the numbers. This is a helpful gauge of our concentration. We may lose count, begin counting on autopilot, or count up to 11 or 20. When this happens, just let it go and begin back at one.
At some point you may want to let go of the counting, but it can be really helpful at the start. There’s nothing else to do in a concentration practice. Every time we bring the attention back to the breath, we strengthen the concentrative muscle. The wandering mind is not a problem, but an opportunity to practice mindfulness and build concentration.