How can we improve our concentration during meditation?
Answer Summary: By contemplating how meditation is where the biggest action is.
Answer: Action is what catches our attention. For example, in a cricket test match, when the action slows down as the batsmen start playing defensively, our interest sags. But when the action rises – the bowler delivers a googly that clean bowls the batsman or the batsman hits a huge six, for example – then our attention peaks effortlessly.
A break that we don’t need?
When it comes to meditation, we often think of it as the antithesis of action. The rest of our life is where the real action is and meditation is a lull from that action. Sometimes when life becomes too stressful, we feel the need for a break. At such times, the serenity of meditation provides us solace and strength.
However, this conception of meditation as a break from action doesn’t work so well when we adopt meditation as a daily discipline. We don’t feel on a daily basis the urgent need for a break. What we feel much more urgently is the need for more time for action: “There’s so much to do and so little time to do it in.” When we are thus mentally geared for action, daily meditation seems to be an obstacle, not a relief. It’s a break that we feel we don’t need.
Suppose we are about to rush off in our car for a busy day’s work and have started the ignition. Just then, someone tells us to press the brake and wait. Naturally we would feel impatient, distracted, even irritated.
That’s how we may feel when we have to spend time each morning meditating on Krishna’s holy names. Of course, intellectually we know the critical importance of chanting: “This is what will matter at the time of death; the devotion that I have awakened for Krishna through chanting will be my only post-mortem asset. I need to focus on it.” Nonetheless, emotionally this kind of reasoning just doesn’t seem to have an impact: “All that is true, but who is going to do all the work that I need to do today? I have to battle through dozens of problems, and I need to get on with the action real fast. I need as much time as possible. When will this meditation stuff end?” Though we may not verbalize such emotions, they do lurk in the background of our consciousness when we chant. From there, they sabotage our attempts to concentrate on the holy names. That’s why concentration during meditation seems so difficult, so elusive.
Game-changing low-profile action
To increase our concentration, we need to revise our conception of meditation: it is not a break from action; it is the ultimate action. We usually think of action in terms of physical action: moving around and doing things. We also acknowledge the value of mental action: sitting calmly and reasoning things out so that we can act intelligently. Subtler than mental action is spiritual action, a form of action that usually doesn’t figure in our normal thinking. Spiritual action is action that arouses our dormant spiritual potential as souls. And mantra meditation is spiritual action par excellence. It stimulates the fullest potential of the soul by linking it with the supreme power of Krishna.
Here’s an example to illustrate how access to a higher power can dramatically alter action at the ground level. During World War II, the scientists at the Manhattan project didn’t seem to be engaged in much action as compared to the troops on the battlefront. But their action in developing an atom bomb proved to be far more effective in forcing Japan to surrender than the frontal assault of the Allied troops with ordinary weapons. The point is here not to condone the development of weapons of mass destruction but to illustrate how high-profile action may not be as decisive as low-profile action that gives access to a formidable power.
Gita wisdom helps us understand that devotional meditation on Krishna is that kind of game-changing low-profile action. When we chant the holy names, we connect ourselves with Krishna, who commands the greatest power in all of creation by his mere will. He can in a trice make things happen that we cannot do even in a trillion years. He can act externally and internally in ways that are beyond our power.
Externally, he can do things that are beyond our power to do, for, as the Bhagavad-gita (13.23) states, he is the overseer and permitter in everything that happens. He can make obstinate people change their minds, something our most reasonable arguments couldn’t have accomplished. He can make multiple things click at the right time, something our most thorough plans couldn’t have coordinated. Coincidences, as is wisely said, are God’s ways of staying anonymous.
Internally, he can give us the intelligence, as the Bhagavad-gita (10.10) promises, by which we get brainwaves that are beyond our intellectual faculties. By such inspiration, we can tap the current that emerges from life’s unexpected turns. If we are too filled with our own plans for action, we tend to see such turns negatively as interferences or disruptions in our plan. But when by our daily meditation we open ourselves to Krishna’s wisdom and power, then we can perceive and pursue the opportunities that such unexpected turns open.
Of course, all this is only the fringe action that results from mantra meditation. Its real action is that it redirects our heart from the world to Krishna – something that neither our best planned action nor the world’s strongest nuclear bomb can do. But this redirection of the heart may seem a distant other-worldly prospect as compared to the immediacy of this-worldly action that confronts us each day. That’s why it’s helpful to contemplate how meditation is also consequential in shaping this-worldly action.
However, all this remarkable effect of meditation s not automatic. It doesn’t occur just by the mechanical utterance of the holy names. We have to sincerely connect with Krishna, show him that we want and need his guidance. Our daily meditation is the time when we can best show him that we mean business, that we treat our meeting with him as important as, if not more important than, any other key business meeting. And the way we convey all this to Krishna is by being attentive during meditation, by being perceptive and receptive to his presence when he manifests himself as his holy name.
When we thus intellectually convince ourselves to be present when Krishna is present, we will soon realize how meditation is the time for the biggest action. Then concentration will become easier, more natural and much more fulfilling.