By J.I. Wedgwood
Meditation is often divided into three stages: Concentration, Meditation, Contemplation. It may be still further subdivided, but it is unnecessary to do so here; on the other hand the beginner should bear in mind that meditation is a science of a life-time, so that he must not expect to attain to the stage of pure contemplation in his earlier efforts.
Concentration consists of focussing the mind on one idea and holding it there. Patanjali, the author of the classic Hindu Yoga Aphorisms, defines Yoga as the hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle. This definition is applicable to concentration, though Patanjali probably goes further in his thought and includes the cessation of the image-making faculty of the mind and of all concrete expressions of thought, thus virtually passing beyond the stage of mere concentration into that of contemplation.
To be able to concentrate, then, it is necessary to gain control of the mind and learn by gradual practice to narrow down the range of its activity, until it becomes one-pointed. Some idea or object is selected upon which to concentrate, and the initial step is to shut out all else from the mind, to exclude therefrom the stream of thoughts alien to the subject, as they dance before the mind like the flickering pictures of the cinematograph. It is true that much of the studentís practice must be in the initial stages take this form of repeated exclusion of thought; and to set oneself to do this is excellent training. But there is another and far sounder way of attaining concentration; it consists in becoming so interested and absorbed in the subject selected that all other thoughts are ipso facto excluded from the mind. We are constantly doing this in our daily lives, unconsciously and by force of habit. The writing of a letter, the adding of accounts, the taking of weighty decisions, the thinking out of difficult problems all these things so engross the mind as to induce a state of more or less wrapt concentration. The student must learn to accomplish this at will, and will best succeed by cultivating the power and habit of observing and paying attention to outer objects.
Let him take any object : a penholder, a piece of blotting paper, a leaf, a flower, and note the details of its appearance and structure which usually pass by unnoticed ; let him catalogue one by one its properties, and presently he will find the exercise of absorbing interest. If he is able to study the process of its manufacture or growth, the interest will again be heightened. No object in nature is in reality entirely dull and uninteresting; and when anything seems so to us, the failure to appreciate the wonder and beauty of its manifestation lies in our own inattentiveness.
As an aid to concentration, it is well to repeat aloud the ideas that pass through the mind. So; this penholder is black; it reflects the light from the window from some portions of its surface; it is about seven inches in length, cylindrical; its surface is engraved with a pattern; the pattern is branch-shaped and is formed of a series of closely-marked lines; and so forth ad libitum.
In this way the student learns to shut out the larger world and to enclose himself in the smaller world of his choice. When this has been done successfully he has achieved a certain degree of concentration; for it is evident that there are still many and various thoughts running through the mind, though all on the subject of the penholder. The speaking aloud helps to slow down this stream of thought and to hinder the mind from wandering. Gradually by practice he learns to narrow down still further the circle of thought until literally he can reach one-pointedness of mind.
The above practice is somewhat in the nature of drill instruction; it requires a degree of strenuous application, and, moreover, may appear somewhat cold to the student, since it arouses little emotion. Another exercise in concentration may therefore be taken concurrently, but before describing this we may say that the former exercise must needs be mastered at some stage of the studentís career. Some degree of mastery therein is a preliminary to successful visualisation, that is, the power of mentally reproducing an object in accurate detail without it being visible to the eyes, and accurate visualisation is a necessary feature of much of the work which is done by students trained in occult methods such as the deliberate construction of thought-forms and the creation of symbols by the mind in ceremonial. Accordingly the student who is really in earnest will not neglect this branch of work on account of it being difficult and requiring application. He will also set to work at visualisation, observing and carefully scrutinizing an object, and then with the eyes closed endeavouring to build up a mental picture of it.
The second method, above referred to, is that of concentrating not upon a physical object but upon an idea. If some virtue be taken it has the advantage of arousing the enthusiasm and devotion of the student, and this is a very important consideration in the initial stages of his practice, when perseverance and steadfastness are often sorely tried. Moreover, the effort buildsÝ that virtue into the character. In this case the concentration is chiefly that of the feelings and less conspicuously a mental process. The student strives to reproduce in himself the virtue, let us say sympathy, at which he is aiming, and by dint of holding himself to a single emotion, by the power of the will eventually succeeds in feeling sympathy. It is easier to be one-pointed in feeling than in thought, for the latter is more subtle and active; but if intense concentration of feeling can be induced, the mind will to a certain extent follow suit.