To Those Who Find It Difficult To Focus The Mind While Trying To Meditate
Is it any wonder that we have a hard time getting this supremely dynamic mind of ours focused when we try to meditate?
In this post, you will learn three powerful techniques to help you in focusing the mind: Visualization, Prayer, and Chanting. [With Videos]
While it is true that these techniques focus our thoughts, they do much more than this. They connect us directly to Spirit. They are the heart and substance of the religious practices of virtually every spiritual path in the world.
Table of Contents
The mind, and its physical instrument, the brain, are restless and must be brought under control before we can meditate properly.
In normal waking consciousness, we are programmed to deal with millions of bits of information coming through the senses. After receiving data, we must evaluate it and make countless decisions, most of them completely below the level of conscious awareness.
Think for a moment about the simple act of walking across your living room to soothe a crying baby. Visually you must see your environment so you can walk through it. This involves not just perceiving objects but also continuously evaluating what your eyes are seeing. Another part of your brain is furiously processing feedback from nerves and muscles, allowing you to remain upright, but not so upright that you can’t continue the process of controlled falling that we call walking. Your auditory system is handling sounds, yet you are probably not aware of any of these activities. Your mind is thinking simply, “Oh, the poor thing! I wonder why he’s crying?”
Traditionally, yoga identifies four basic mental processes, which in Sanskrit are called mon, buddhi, ahankara, and Chitta.
Mon (the mind) is the act of receiving information.
Initially comes mon, the mind, which is responsible for receiving information. We take in an endless stream of input from the senses. The sense organs are designed to translate energy in the form of waves, pressures, or chemicals into electrical signals. These signals are sent, by an electrochemical process, to the appropriate part of the brain. This is an amazingly complex operation—the visual cortex of the brain alone is made up of billions of neurons! Yet, even though we have received the input, we haven’t yet made sense out of it any more than a mirror recognizes images reflected in its surface.
Next comes buddhi (the intellect), where we process, recognize, and relate the information to pre-existing knowledge, often giving it a name.
Once the brain receives the raw data from the senses we must then process it into a coherent perception of the world. This “processing,” the action of buddhi, is an even greater source of mental activity than the reception itself.
Modern research shows that sight, for instance, relies on extremely complex interactions between different parts of the brain. We construct a series of overlapping “maps” using highly specialized regions of the cerebral cortex. Some nerve cells “see” only straight vertical lines, others see only straight horizontal lines, or curves, or movement, or color. All of these maps, at least a dozen, must be somehow coordinated and combined into a consistent whole in order for us to see and then to recognize a puppy, a pencil, or a parent.
Then with ahankara (the ego) we evaluate it according to how it affects us. Finally, through chitta (the feelings) we judge it positively or negatively according to our feelings and our learned likes and dislikes.
After processing all this basically neutral information we then personalize it and relate it to ourselves through ahamkara, the ego principle.
We continually (but subconsciously) ask, “Is this mine or not mine? How does it affect me? Will this be positive or negative for me—for my body, my territory, my family, my possessions, my opinions? Does this threaten me in any way?”
Quiet your mind sufficiently to observe your thoughts and you will see that the majority of mental agitation is caused by concerns about your ego.
Chitta (emotion) it is occasionally translated as “mind stuff” and used to define the whole mental process.
Yet, evaluating things as to whether they affect our ego does not necessarily bind us to delusion. Even saints, after all, must take care of their bodies.
Through the influence of chitta, however, we judge the world according to our likes and dislikes. It is this, above all, that keeps us enslaved in the dream world of matter.
The heart’s energy becomes involved and we create an endless stream of desires and repulsions. While we are usually unaware of our constant judgments, they determine our level of happiness more than anything else. They determine whether the world pleases or disappoints us.
If in meditation you can pull back from your likes and dislikes and simply observe your mind, you will quickly be able to focus your energy.
In fact, Patanjali, an ancient and universally respected sage, gave as his classic definition of yoga, “Yogas chitta vritti nirodh”—“Yoga is the neutralization of the vortices of likes and dislikes.” The blissful state of union with God waits in the silent calmness just beyond our likes and dislikes.
How do we still the mind and emotions? By deeply focusing our energy and thoughts. In “Hong-Sau Technique of Mediation” you can learn the last lesson we learned a very powerful technique, Hong-Sau, for concentrating your energy. Calming the energy will automatically calm the thoughts and feelings.
3 Powerful Techniques To Focus The Mind For Meditation
One of the great benefits of yoga is that it recognizes everything simply as different levels of energy. It doesn’t judge things as good or evil but rather evaluates actions and decisions according to their ability to increase or decrease energy.
Through experience we learn that we are inherently more happy when our energy expands and increasingly unhappy as it contracts. Unlike some religious dogmas, yoga doesn’t try to suppress energy, but gives us techniques to channel it, ways to transmute thoughts rather than repress them.
In meditation, we strive to achieve a state of consciousness in which the mind is calm, focused, and expansive. But to succeed we must first escape the tendency toward restlessness.
Visualization, prayer, and chanting each help to focus our minds and direct them toward Spirit. Each works with a different function of the mind, and each, if done correctly, has the power to connect us directly to our own higher self, the superconsciousness.
These three activities, present in all religions, are the primary practices of most spiritual paths.
Visualization is easy to do, but there are a few principles to keep in mind in order to practice it effectively. Concentrate in the forehead and imagine the scene as if it were being shown on a screen. Try to see the image in as great a detail as possible: The more clearly you visualize something the more powerful will be its effect. See it in vibrant color and clear detail.
A visualization should be both beautiful and expansive, since its purpose is to uplift the mind as well as focus it. Involve more senses than just sight. If you are visualizing a lake, hear the wavelets lapping on the shore, feel the breeze blowing over the water, even smell the wildflowers on the banks. Above all, immerse yourself in the scene to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
There are many types of visualization but three kinds are especially helpful for meditation. The first one helps calm and focus the mind, the second expands our consciousness, and the third attunes us to a saint or spiritual guide.
Here’s an example of a calming and focusing visualization: Feel yourself as Divine Light in this short powerful guided visualization and affirmation by Swami Kriyananda, read by Nayaswami Diksha.
Every religion counsels prayer, but most people are disappointed with the results of their prayers. This is because they are praying in the wrong way.
Yogananda gave clear guidelines for effective prayer. First of all, he said that we must pray with our full consciousness—as Jesus said, “with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
God answers all prayers, but those with little energy behind them He answers only a little. Those with real power elicit a potent response.
- Pray believing
- Don’t let doubts and insecurities block your expectation of success.
- Assume that God wants to -answer your prayers (as long as they are for your benefit, not your harm).
- Pray with the thought that you are God’s very own child and not a beggar pleading for favors from a stranger. Beggarly prayers keep God distant while praying as His son or daughter brings Him close.
- Don’t feel unworthy: Identify with your potential, not your failings. Yogananda said, “The greatest sin is to call yourself a -sinner.”
Let your prayers be simple and from your heart.
Formal prayers create a stiff relationship with God casting Him in the role of someone whom we must please with fancy words and actions before He will accept or love us. But, in reality, He is the nearest of the near and the dearest of the dear. He is closer to us than our own thoughts and loves us more than we can ever love ourselves.
Here is a beautiful and simple prayer from Yogananda’s book Whispers from Eternity, which you can use as a model for your own prayers. Read it over several times to get in touch with the images and meaning of the words. Then repeat it with closed eyes, going deeply into the feeling behind the words. As you continue to saturate the prayer with your soul feelings, you will spiritualize it, giving it a power far beyond the mere words.
We Demand as Thy Children
“Thou art our Father. We are made in Thine own image. We are sons of God. We neither ask nor pray like beggars, but demand as Thy children, wisdom, salvation, health, happiness, eternal joy. Naughty or good, we are Thy children. Help us to find Thy will in us. Teach us to use independently the human will (since Thou gavest that to us to use freely), in tune with Thy wisdom-guided will.”
Note: The use of Thou and Thy may sound somewhat formal to the modern ear, since they are less used now, but it is actually the familial or more intimate form of address in English.
Chanting—the repetitive singing of a few words or sentences—is very similar to prayer. In fact, many of the chants that we sing at Ananda are simply prayers set to music. Adding melody and rhythm to a prayer makes it easier to get engaged. In chanting, the same rules apply as in praying: Concentrate deeply, chant with your whole being, and try to get behind the words into the essence of the chant. Yogananda said, “Chanting is half the battle.” It is one of the very best ways to open the heart.
At Ananda’s centers and churches we chant together at the beginning of nearly every group meditation. Then we carry the chant into the silent part of the meditation, trying to open our hearts more and more completely to God. You can chant silently at any time: while working, or driving, or while otherwise wasting time standing in line. Regular chanting will awaken love and devotion in your heart and keep your meditations from getting dry.
Someone once told Yogananda that Americans had no devotion. Yogananda smiled quietly and asked the man to come that evening to a program he was scheduled to give at Carnegie Hall in New York. At that program he led an audience of several thousand in singing the following chant for nearly two hours! Many, he said, went into a state of ecstasy that night. Others were healed of serious illness.
The following chant is composed by Paramhansa Yogananda, performed by the members from Ananda Mumbai.
Generally speaking, you should use these three techniques—visualization, prayer, and chanting—toward the beginning of your meditation.
You should leave at least one-third of your meditation time for going beyond words and inwardly communing with Spirit.
These techniques should bring you to a state of deep calmness and focus.
As you feel a sense of inwardness, try to increase the feeling by bathing yourself in that inner poise. Don’t allow restlessness to creep back into the mind. Stay in the calm inner poise of your soul for as long as you can, letting it infuse your whole being.
Even when you are ready to leave your meditation seat, feel that you are carrying a bubble of peace and joy with you. Let your activity spring from that state. Speak from that state. Relate from that state. See how it will transform your life!