An important step towards being able to meditate is the ability to focus. In concentration we aim all of our thoughts at a single object. The object can be external, such as a candle flame, black dot or a flower. It can also be internal, such as our breath or our heart-beat. Or it can be one thought in our mind, such as an imagery of a blazing sun or a vast ocean. Concentration enables to be present, to be there with the object of our concentration. It also enables us to identify with the qualities of the object we focus on. For example, when we concentrate on a imagery of peaceful and vast ocean, after a few minutes of this exercise we may feel more peaceful. Most importantly, concentration pacifies the constant chatter of our thoughts and creates an internal space to open to our inner heart and to our soul which we seek in our meditation.
Here is a simple concentration exercise that many people found to be effective.
1. Find a quiet space where you can practice this exercise and place a candle there.
2. Take a few deep breaths. Relax.
3. Bring your vision to the candle flame. Start by focusing on the entire candle flame. As the exercise progresses you may wish to focus on even a smaller point, such as the tip of the candle flame.
4. Imagine as if there was a magnifying glass in front of you and that glass took all of your scattered thoughts and brought them to the candle flame.
5. If you feel too tense, almost to the point of getting a headache, relax a bit. Breathe. You can imagine that instead from your head the power of your concentration comes from your heart. Imagine that when you breath out your breath goes from your heart into the candle flame and when you breathe in your breath goes back from the candle flame into your heart. Establish a gentle, yet focused heart-identification with the candle flame.
6. If you notice that you lost your focus and your mind wondered off elsewhere simply bring your attention back to the candle flame. Do not be annoyed at yourself when this happens. Be patient. In the beginning, this can happen several times during a single exercise. As you practice regularly and you get better at the exercise, the number times this happens decreases and your moments of uninterrupted focus extend.
7. To finish the exercise, take a few deep breaths. Take a few moments to internalize the exercise before you go on with your other activities.
Initially, practice the exercise just for a few minutes. As you improve, you can extent the duration of the exercise. Remember, it is the quality of your exercise that matters, not how long you sit there. Practice with inspiration and diligence.