The Barriers in Concentration

The most consistent complaint about concentration (Dharana) is that the harder an aspirant tries to achieve it, the more difficult it becomes. This is justified to some extent, by an applicable law of physics: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The greater the force with which a ball is thrown in the air, the harder it falls. Similarly, the more pressure we exert on our mind for concentration, the opposite reaction takes place. However, when looked deeply into this assertion, lack of courage and lack of understanding turn out to be the main causes of encountering problems in concentration.

The nature of mind (Manas) is dynamic. It will not remain still. When an aspirant tries to change its behavior from dynamic to static, and wishes to see it stand still, a struggle erupts between the forces (determination to tame the mind) of aspirant and the forces (the dynamic nature) of mind. Working towards winning this struggle is termed practice (Abhyas). It is of paramount importance for the aspirant to keep a watch on the thought waves erupting in the mind during practice. There are two types of thought waves: the useful ones and the adverse ones that keep exploding into mind. The adverse ones should not be allowed to enter the mind, and if they do enter the mind, they must be forced out. There are certain techniques to get rid of these unwanted distracting thought waves. However, they may not be explained correctly in a written format and may be learned by asking in person. When good thoughts, such as meeting with the Guru, attending Satsang, thoughts about sages or scriptures and the like arise, do not try to stop them. These good thoughts will propel the aspirant on the road to progress because the good thoughts will force out the bad thoughts. The nature of the mind is such that it will not occupy two thoughts at the same time; therefore, opposite thoughts can never co-exist. In this way freedom from one (i.e. bad thoughts) is accomplished.

Slowly, the pacification of good thought waves

The idea that we ultimately need to overcome even those thought-waves which are “good”, “pure”, and “truthful” may at first seem shocking to a student who has been trained in the Western approach to morality. But a little reflection will show him that this must be so. The external world, even in its most beautiful appearances and noblest manifestations, is still superficial and transient. It is not the basic reality. We must look through it, not at it, in order to see the Atman. Surely, it is better to love than to hate, better to tell the truth than to lie, better to share than to hoard. But the thought-waves, which motivate the practice of these virtues, are nevertheless disturbances of the mind.”

Swami Prabhavananda in commenting on Patanjali Yoga Sutras

will also transpire, and we will go beyond the reaches of both thought waves. The nature of mind will transform to the extent that at the order of the aspirant it will become static from dynamic, and will be under the control of the aspirant. This will be the state of meditation. Our spiritual discipline practices so far have led us to the state of concentration. With the mind pacified and devoid of thought waves, we now enter the state of meditation, which would transform itself into the state of super consciousness.

The mind possesses a kind of magnetic power which attracts like sets of thought waves and repels the unlike sets of thought waves. If for some time, say a few days, we are on alert and do not let other than beneficial thoughts enter our mind, we do not let any other thoughts arise in our mind. This will result in molding our mind in such a way that it won’t like and hence, won’t allow the bad or harmful thoughts to enter. Furthermore, it will allow and therefore attract only beneficial or good thoughts. The environment or atmosphere is full of thought waves, and these waves are traveling all the time. The mind works like a receiver and accepts those thought waves for which it has tuned itself. So, a mind that is trained for pure and beneficial thought waves will allow and receive similar thought waves. A mind that is not trained will allow and receive filthy and harmful thought waves. The atmosphere is full of both kinds of thought waves ready to enter the willing mind. For that very reason, good people are always being reinforced with good thoughts, whereas the opposite happens with not so good people.

As it happens, some minds are very sensitive receivers. Their acceptance capabilities are far greater than others. Others readily influence these minds. They are always willing to follow the advice or copy the behaviors of others. This is a weakness of immense proportions as it reflects an inability to distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong, and it amounts to following blindly. We have to become strong enough that thoughts of others do not affect us; rather, our willpower influences them. We have seen that the associations of great souls with masses have changed for better the lives of hundreds and thousands; however, the purity of these great souls remains untouched by the association with the masses. This state of remaining unaffected comes only after having acquired strength. We have to get that kind of strength; otherwise, there is no doubt of us falling flat on our faces. The practice of concentration delivers a matchless might to the mind. The aspirant armed with this might gains control of thought waves roaming around the universe. He allows and receives the good ones and leaves the rest for others.

The great sage Patanjali says, “To be free from the thoughts that distract one from yoga, thoughts of an opposite kind must be cultivated.” In this aphorism, he advises that when thought waves, whether internal or external, cause distraction in the practice of concentration, do not put up a fight. The fight would have an adverse reaction: The more you fight, the more vigorous the reaction — resulting in unnecessary waste of time and energy. When we get inundated with distracting, harmful thought waves, do not fight. Instead, invite thought waves of the opposite nature. Fill your mind with the right kind, opposite of the distracting and harmful thought waves, and have your full and undiluted attention to the invited thought waves. By doing so, the distracting thought waves give way to the right ones, and the aspirant develops a pure and clean mind.

For those who are not able to perform the above-described process, there is another technique that might work. Pay no attention to the distracting thought waves, internal or external. They are uninvited guests. Don’t welcome them. Ignore them. Keep doing your job. By not paying attention, by ignoring the intruding, unwanted, and distracting thought waves, they leave on their own just like uninvited guests. They get the message of being unwanted. By doing your job, it is meant to focus on your objective. By developing this attitude of ignoring all extraneous thoughts, in a relatively short time, the mind becomes such that it won’t allow and won’t receive any distracting thoughts.

It is a matter of everyday experience that commonality provides pulling power. Whatever matters or thought waves you have created your mind of, they will attract the same type. The proper thing for you to do is to feed it, strengthen it with good matters (good thought waves), and deny it of bad matters (bad thought waves). The goodness will come to it naturally and life will become fruitful. The ocean of thought waves is around us. We should take the jewels and not touch the salty water. We should fill our glass with clean water so that there is no room for anything else to get in.

“Thoughts of an opposite kind must be cultivated.” This second half of the sentence of the Sutra must also be understood for daily activities in this manner. When we look at someone’s weaknesses, this generates bad thoughts in us, which in turn lead us to hatred. Right then and there, we should think of any good deed or any good quality about that person and continue thinking. If the mind is in turmoil over some worries or problems, think of the protector of all, think of the Supremacy of the Mother, surrender yourself to Her and don’t let go until your mind has been calmed. It applies to most other situations. The best medicine for distracting thought waves is to fill the mind with superior thought waves, joyful events, and association of persons of Peace. The first thing in the morning that you might do is immerse yourself in the thoughts of your Guru and feel, “My Guru is in front of me and looking at me, protecting me, knows all good and bad about me, knows all about my sorrows and joys. He surely will remove all my predicaments and quandaries.” If we do this, then the entire day will be filled with Peace and joy. A few things, which need to be completed, may get done through the Guru’s potency. But the Guru should also be absolute, whole, an illuminated soul. Maharshi Patanjali says about the Guru, “Or by meditating on the heart of an illuminated soul, that is free from passion.”