Concentration is defined as the direction or focus of attention on a single object, a singleness of mind[i].
Mark Epstein states: “As concentration increases, the mind and body relax. Thoughts diminish, emotional pressures weaken, and a kind of calm takes over. The mind gradually comes under some degree of control and settles down…Right concentration … offers stillness, not just as respite, but as a way of entertaining uncertainty.”[ii]
Skillful or wholesome concentration is concentration that is free of what the Buddha called the hindrances. Hindrances cloud our concentration. The five most common hindrances are desire, aversion, restlessness/worry, mental/physical laziness, and doubt.
The Buddha stated the four developments of concentration[iii]
- leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now
- leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision
- leads to mindfulness & alertness
- leads to the ending of the defilements (hindrances, poisons)
In meditation, we start with
concentration practice by focusing on the breath as our object of
attention. If we have trouble focusing,
we look see if any of the hindrances above are present. By continuing to practice concentration,
these hindrances usually fall away.
After calming the mind, we can shift to insight (Vipassana) meditation
by using concentration to focus on whatever phenomena (thoughts, memories,
sensations) are arising in the mind in order to investigate. Mindfulness makes us aware of what is and
concentration keeps our attention on it.
In everyday life, we can use concentration on the breath to calm the
mind. Just applying concentration to two
or three breaths can be beneficial.