Right Concentration

“When you use concentration to run away from yourself or your situation, it is wrong concentration. Sometimes we need to escape our problems for relief, but at some time we have to return to face them.”

Thich Nhat Hanh in The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

Right Concentration is one aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, which is the way to well-being. Other aspects are Right View, Right Mindfulness, Right Speech, Right Thinking, Right Diligence, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.

There exists a particular hell where concentration seems impossible. When pressures, urgency, fears, anger and other distractions carry us away from our center, a deadly non-peace takes over. When nothing is working and that just doesn’t seem OK, we lose the ability to concentrate. We are out of the flow, hopes sag and we thrash about unproductively. In better moments, we can focus, do what needs to be done, move ahead, be in the present, and experience the joy of living. 

The state of mind in which we are absorbed, focused, and forgetful of self is rewarding, and people use extraordinary means to gain it. We can find that state in acts of creation, in music, dancing, in sports, in risk taking, in deep conversation, and sometimes in work. When the free-throw shooter is in the zone or the painter is in the flow of creation, the focus of activity is paramount and time passes in an entirely different way. Gambling and computer games are compelling, and in some cases addictive, in large part, because they induce a state of full concentration in which one’s confusion and anxiety are removed from awareness while one stays engaged in the action.

It is worth reflecting on how you have experienced concentration. Maybe make two lists. On one list write when in your life have you experienced being focused and in the flow? You might have found that level of concentration in moments when you were totally engaged in life. Afterwards you might have wondered where the time went. You might have had the experience of losing yourself in the activity, yet remaining present with your awareness heightened and your actions seeming congruent and flowing.

On your other list, note when you may have found yourself carried away in activity that took you out of your life through distraction. These would be engaging moments of avoidance that later you might reflect on as being rather meaningless, possibly even harmful.

Looking deeply at the flow moments that brought you more awareness and closer to life, you might find talents and capacities that if developed could create more meaning in your life. Looking at the ways you distract yourself from real life you may find band-aids to cover suffering and possibly self defeating behaviors.  

Right Concentration involves more mindfulness, clarity of thought, congruence between thought and behavior and less attachment to ego. As you practice being in the present and acting with awareness and clear intentions you will find yourself in the happy state of Right Concentration.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett