Concentration is the oldest form of meditation. It is an excellent way to calm the mind and increase one’s ability to focus. It is used all over the world in different traditions—both secular and religious.
This is where a lot of people start, including myself. It has been a very grounding practice for me, and it’s my go-to when I need to re-center. I find beauty in its simplicity, and power.
Find somewhere relatively quiet, where you won’t be interrupted. Sit comfortably. It can be on a chair, or on a cushion. If you’re on a cushion, make sure your knees are below your hips so you can maintain the posture comfortably for a while. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths.
Make sure your seat is firmly grounded. Check your spine. Don’t slump, and don’t have stiff military posture. Feel a sense of stability, while allowing for natural curvature of the spine. Lift the heart slightly. Feel as though there is a string attached to the top of the head, gently pulling it upwards.
Begin to notice your breathing. Air moves in, air moves out. Notice where you feel the sensation of breathing the most. For some it’s the abdomen arising and falling. For others, it’s the sensation of air moving in and out of the nostrils. Find that place, and observe the sensation of the breath entering and exiting the body. Keep your attention in that place. Simply observing the breath.
This, of course, is easier said than done. Very soon, you’ll realize you’re planning, or remembering, or pondering, or any of the myriad of ways we chain thoughts together. This is what our mind does best: thinking.
Thoughts seem to come out of nowhere, and seem to dissolve into nothing. It might be difficult, but I’ve found it’s best to take the attitude that any thought, no matter how profound, or intriguing, is irrelevant. You have carved out a certain amount of time to sit and focus on your breath. That’s the task at hand. Everything else is a distraction (no matter how juicy).
Still, thoughts happen. When you discover that your awareness of the breath has been consumed with thoughts, give yourself an inner-smile: be happy that you noticed when you did.
Then, gently bring your awareness back to the breath and keep it there. Keep repeating this process: focusing your attention on the breath, and bringing it back to the breath when it strays.
Treat your mind like a puppy you’re trying to potty train on a newspaper: kindly and gently, with a smile, bring it back, no matter how many times it wanders. Don’t scold or punish the puppy: it is absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing; you’re training it to do something it’s not used to. Likewise, do not judge yourself when your attention strays. Any frustration or negativity will only hinder your concentration and progress.
Sometimes sensations arise, and they can feel quite pleasant, or even startling. It’s important to allow any energy that arises to simply pass through you. Treat it like any other object: acknowledge it and return your awareness to the breath.
Keep at it. It takes a lot of practice. To be able to completely focus on the breath for more than 10 seconds is an enormous challenge. Let alone 30. Or a few minutes. But it’s absolutely within your power. The key is the right balance of effort and levity.
Practice this simple, but difficult task for 10 minutes a day, every day. Think of it as mental hygiene.