Today I led a day of meditation on the theme of concentration for the Madison Vipassana community. What a lovely day this was—snow on the ground, sun in the sky, and a room full of attentive meditators! There was tremendous interest in deepening concentration and applying that stability to the insights of everyday life.
A concentrated mind is buoyant, mindful, alert, and attentive to its task. In meditation the tasks are simple—observe the breath, body, mind, or a meditation object. When not concentrated, whether in meditation or daily life, it might be difficult to observe anything deeply or clearly.
So notice, how you are directing your attention now. Are you focused in a way that is mindful of your activity? Do you clearly know what you are conscious of? If stray thoughts or superfluous perceptions distract you, do you apply the energy to abandon those distracting thoughts, or do you let them pull you away from your task? How we use our attention in daily life will affect our concentration during meditation, just as how we cultivate concentration during meditation will affect our ability to focus in daily life activities.
Concentration practice cultivates the capacity to attend to whatever subject or experience you pursue. If you are trying to solve a problem at work, concentration can help us stay focused until you can resolve the difficulty. If you are listening to a troubled friend, an undistracted mind will support a joyful and compassionate presence. If you are meditating on the breath, one-pointedness of attention will stabilize attention so that the hindrances fall away and wholesome factors of mind intensify. Whatever you choose to do, concentration supports a full presence in that activity.
So don’t wait until you are in your next retreat before cultivating concentration. Work with the mind now. Notice times in daily life that the mind habitually strays into fantasy, planning, and worry, and bring it back to the simplicity of the body posture and breathing. Take a few minutes now and then to pause—interrupt the rapid pace of activities and let the mind settle as you are riding the elevator, stopped at a stop light, or tossing a can in the trash. Many times, in brief moments, let go of distraction, and open to a relaxed and undistracted wakefulness with whatever you are doing now.