How I Developed Single Pointed Concentration
Have you ever struggled to maintain focus when you meditate? It is extremely common – they don’t call it the monkey mind for no reason. In this blog I share my experiences of learning to concentrate in a receptive (open) way and developing stillness.
This was one of the more difficult processes that I learnt when starting to meditate with Lifeflow, especially while in retreat.
Learning to Manage Distractions
There was always some distraction on which to focus, either physical, mental, or emotional, such as shifting around trying to get comfortable, ‘wanting’ to eat – ‘needing’ a cup of tea or toilet or focussing on thoughts or emotions popping up in the mind that were ‘very important’ and had to be attended to first.
I found that by pushing out the length of time before reacting to these stimuli was very useful in learning to sit still (externally and internally).
Slowly, over the retreats, I was able to sit for relatively longer periods of time without being distracted.
Then came the tricky one – not trying to make something happen using thoughts or feelings, but instead remaining in a receptive state, i.e., by just observing what is happening internally and externally without action or reaction.
Finding the Pinhead
I found that the mind still wants to play a variety of tricks – all kinds of emotional scenarios fly through, which can be very disconcerting and can lead to a variety of frustrations, this was also coupled with me analysing physical properties of the object – what do I do now? Well! This was how I came to meditate on a pinhead – using the simplest practical object of which I could think!
It involved gently focusing on the round plastic head of a pin. I slowly reached this stage by starting with a homogeneous egg-size object then progressed over a series of meditations and retreats using smaller and smaller objects to practise single pointed meditation.
I finally arrived at the head of a pin (held up with a small gob of Blu-Tac on a window ledge or similar) as it could be seen clearly from 1.5 to 2 metres while resting the gaze gently on the head without straining.
I used a red pinhead to start with, then ranged through the primary colours to watch the effect on mind and body (red, white, blue, yellow, green, and black – a worthy exercise in its own right!). I tried a clear pinhead, but it was difficult to see in low light and a good excuse for a snooze.
After a time, I gravitated to a white pin head as I could drop into a stillness fairly easily, where after a while, the meditation would open up to a clarity throughout my mind and body.
This exercise evolved over 1 ½ to 2 years during which a significant period of time was spent sorting through thoughts, emotions, and sensations arising from my physical body – continuing to return to the pinhead many times during meditations (usually lasting around an hour).
It can still be hard work though, as there is a myriad of ploys that my thoughts and emotions use to send ripples across the pond! And as Gretta wrote in her blog on Anger, there’s always one that dominates and our job is to be up early to catch and watch it.
I have found that the stillness attained in retreats, when using single pointed concentration has really enabled my work in meditation to flourish. The ability to gain stillness in meditation has become second nature and enabled me to sort more clearly through the many questions that crop up through my life.
The understandings that I developed and continue to develop over many years have been invaluable for living more fully from day to day. I still have a focus object for my everyday meditations … albeit slightly larger than a pinhead.