Concentration – This month’s Theme

Good morning, good afternoon, whatever you are. This is Chris, we are talking today about concentration. And there are very few things that I talk about and practice and rehearse and work on that are more important than concentration. 

Traditionally in the old days, meditation or sitting around by yourself in the forest for long periods of time with your life in danger was the prime form of meditation teaching, of concentration teaching. 

Monks learn to concentrate, priests learn to concentrate, people learn to concentrate by being put in shitty places and having to endure a lot of hardship while focused on one thing. If it’s in Zen, which as you know has been the primary practice of my life, it is a koan, a short sentence and you’ve got to think it through, think it through, think it through and see what you come up with. 

I am I would be a great koan. The meditation in the Himalayas when you sit with monks, as you know I’ve done that a fair bit for quite extended periods, they read from the Buddhist Dharma books and those books, especially the ones up in where I go up in the Himalayas have been smuggled out of Tibet before the Chinese burnt them, which they did to most of these very, very, very ancient scrolls and if you look at any monastery they’ll have about 108 scrolls up on the wall and each page represents a sort of a pattern and so if you’re learning how to do it, to do a funeral, it would be page one, page 27, page 85, page 9, and you chant that. 

So there’s focus and concentration there. Another method of teaching concentration was music. And in most spiritual traditions, music has been a crucial part, but mastering an instrument so that you can actually call the gods or call the spirits or call people in. 

Dancing has been another form of concentration training and learning to dance and focus on every step and know where you are in the dance and peyote and drugs. Those drugs hallucinogenics were another form of concentration teaching where everything else that was in your mind was abandoned because you couldn’t think and what was left was the thing you were concentrating on and you didn’t really get to choose the thing. As life has evolved, the mechanism of forcing people to learn how to concentrate moved into the scope of school and study for exams and no better way is there than to say to somebody, you have no choice but to learn this material and if you don’t learn it, you’ll fail and if you fail, you’ll be ostracised and you’ll be kicked out and you won’t have very good life. 

So you’re going to learn not what I’m trying to teach you, you’re going to learn how to concentrate enough that you learn something. This continues in sport. You watch incredible feats of concentration in a game of tennis or a game of footy, somebody kicking for goal after the siren, someone throwing a netball after the siren, a baseball hitter actually hitting a ball so sweet that it goes over the fence and so the list goes on. 

The starting blocks of a 100 -meter swimming race or a 50 -meter swimming race is an unbelievable moment of concentration. The swimmer has to predict when the gun is going off and jump within nanoseconds of the sound but almost be jumping before the sound but not actually leaving the blocks. 

And if they leave the blocks, same in the 100 meters, they’re disqualified before the gun goes off. So it’s no different to 10 -pin bowling or lawn bowls in the Olympics or downhill skiing. All of these things require one thing, one thing in common and that is concentration and that’s what meditation was meant to teach. It’s been hijacked of course to be a process most people use to find bliss or to find an escape from life or to abandon whatever they’re doing and find some level of righteousness or solace, solace, a position of solace. 

So going back to this core thing, shooting an arrow or gun at a target, concentration, playing darts, concentration, a game of chess, a game of table tennis, concentration. And it’s getting harder because instantaneous gratification means the ability to be entertained instantly means we don’t spend a lot of time. 

What I did is I used it to get on my iPhone and check my emails and check a few counts and do a few things like this. So, concentration, it’s entertainment steals our concentration because that’s the purpose of it. 

iPhones and what have you, steal our concentration because we’re not focusing on the thing. The thing is causing us to focus on it. And that means that without the thing, we’re not concentrating. A great exercise that I do in a workshop is I ask people to play pickup sticks. 

You know that funny little game where you throw all the sticks down on the ground and you’ve got to get them off the ground without moving another stick or get them to build a little Lego tower or something like that while I’m talking. 

And just see how much of what I say is retained. And that’s an example of what happens in a room when you’re in a meeting, you’re talking, but everybody else looks like they’re concentrating, but actually they more could be described as deer, deer staring into the headlights of a car, are a little bit frozen in the moment. 

To cause somebody to concentrate, you have to make a noise. For that person to concentrate, they need no noise. So the swing and the balance here is whether you are capable of concentrating without noise or if you’re not, how much noise do people around you have to make to cause you to concentrate? 

A lot of domestic violence, a lot of street violence, a lot of this stuff is about concentration. I won’t cover it right here, but you can see that if… you somebody needs to make a very loud noise to cause you to concentrate, that will be eventually considered abusive. 

Now, let’s talk about the things that distract us from concentrating. I think concentration is a very natural thing. If you were to live in the bush and you had no TV and no radio, and things were pretty organic, mistakes become life -threatening. 

If you spill the milk on the way back from the goat, if you don’t get the fire started. So people in those situations do not ever multi -skill. If you say to somebody, multi -task coming, if you say to somebody in a bush setting or in a remote setting, that you’re going to talk while they build a fence they’ll tell you to shut up. If you talk to somebody and say, would you get the milk and while you’re at it, blah, blah, blah, they’ll tell you no. It becomes quite obvious that to do something really well and not make error at it, we need to focus and concentrate on it. 

And distractions take that focus and concentration away. Now I’ve just mentioned some examples living on a farm and how somebody else can distract us or we can distract that person. But the biggest cause of lost focus, lost concentration is ourselves. 

When we get too much in our head, we can’t think clearly and we start to think across a spectrum. So we’re doing one thing, thinking about another thing, we’re hearing something else and none of what’s going on is happening properly. 

I’m gonna tell you a little story here before we go to the end game, which is how to concentrate better. I was living in India and a guy who was the reincarnation of an old monk, a ring -per -shea came to stay. 

He had two bodyguards, he was a very important person. Chinese didn’t really like him because he represented a Tibetan culture and he was about to be initiated at Belakope, which is near Mysore in India. 

We’re lucky enough to spend time with him. My partner and I had just returned from six months in New York and we were on our way to Australia through India and we’re doing six months in India on the way. 

And I had a pair of five blade, five -blade, wheel rollerblades. That’s a very fast pair of roller blades, let me tell you. And I used to scoot up and down the driveway there in India, scoot up and down the driveway of the house we were staying in, much to the delight of people who’d never seen a pair of roller blades before. 

On this particular day, the ring -per -sheet guy, he was about 23 years old, was coming over for lunch. One of his bodyguards was his chef, so the bodyguard was cooking the lunch. We were out in the driveway and I got out my roller blades and I put them on, I skated up and down and did a few turns and a few sharp bends and he said, can I try? 

Through the translator, can I try? And I said, sure. And he put a pair of roller blades on for the first time in his existence, having just seen a pair, let alone a seen them and wanted to try, he’d never seen a pair of roller blades till this moment and he put them on stood up and he emulated everything I did. 

Now you might find that hard to believe that he didn’t slip and fall or get dizzy or think but this guy concentrated so much when he was watching me that he actually embodied what he saw. A little bit later the same person, we were at a Christmas party at our house and we’re all sitting around having a meal, sitting on the floor eating off the plates in the middle of the table, in the middle of the floor with our fingers, we’re all enjoying the meal and one of the yoga people at the table sat in lotus pose, pushed a hand on their floor and went up and almost into what’s called a handstand from sitting position still in lotus the monk, the Rinpoche watched and then he did the same thing. 

The ability to concentrate is the ability to observe without thinking and if you observe without thinking you learn. If you observe whatever’s going on around you and judge it or question it or it threatens you or you feel uncomfortable about it you’ve lost concentration.

And so most people think that the art of concentration is focus is to be able to put your mind to something absolutely laser but it’s not concentration is the ability to open your mind to let something in and not allow anything else to get in the way. 

And I think this is a really important thing because we multitask a lot. And in doing that, the most dangerous thing or the most threatening thing will get the most airtime. And all the other stuff will be going on, but we won’t be giving it any airtime. 

We’ll give it less and less airtime. We’ll be listening less, thinking less, doing less. And the more and more that happens, the more we block out interruptions. Concentration, therefore, is not the blocking of interruptions. 

Interruptions don’t matter when you’re concentrating. You let them in, but they don’t stick. They just pass through. I think it’s a pretty important thing to get because most domestic struggles between husband and wife, between partners, most domestic struggles are caused by one or both individuals in the relationship not turning up, not concentrating. So there’s a lot to be gained and I don’t think in 2020 -45 it is appropriate to learn concentration from meditation because I know monks, I know monks in both Zen and in the Himalayas who’ve been meditating and learning meditation for 20 or 30 years and still don’t get it right. 

I don’t think we have that time to waste.

 This is Chris, you have a beautiful day.

Bye for now. 

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