Concentration Exercises

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I should like to suggest an exercise for you to start with this summer in preparation for our later work together. Sit down twice a day for five minutes, not more, any time you wish. Choose a time and a place when and where you know you will be undisturbed and do not have to fear interruptions. Sit down comfortably. Do not lie down. Become very calm. Relax completely, without trying to exert any force, strain, or pressure. Begin to follow the abdominal movements of your breath when you breathe very quietly: up and down, up and down. Or, if you prefer, imagine a point between your eyes — whichever is easier for you. Be prepared for your mind soon to be disturbed by unvolitional background thoughts. Expect them, observe them quietly. If they are not of pressing importance for you now — indicating a disturbance in your psyche — discard them quietly, without getting impatient with yourself. Resume the task of following the abdominal movements of your breath or of concentrating on the imaginary point between your eyes, all the time aware of what the background thoughts really are when they do come. It suffices to observe them as they appear in order to become conscious of the mechanism of thought process. You will then become aware that you are the victim of these thoughts. This awareness will bring you nearer to the goal. At the beginning it will seem impossible to think of nothing but your breath movements. Uninvited thought fragments will constantly rush in. Most of the time, they will be so powerful as to make you unaware that you do indulge in them. You will notice them only after a while. Whenever you do, try to recollect what your thoughts made you think of. Say to yourself: “I was thinking of this or that,” whatever it may have been. This in itself is a means to become more aware of yourself. You may then either go on with your concentration and defer to analyze the thought materials until after, or you may do so right away, if you feel the urge, and resume the concentration exercise another time.

If you faithfully persevere, you will eventually get to the point when you will become a watcher of your thoughts. You will stand guard, so to speak, at the threshold of your thinking process. You will begin to sense what calmness really means. Your thoughts and emotions will stand still, be it only for a moment. As you go on, you will learn to extend this moment. The longer you can do it, the more you will feel rested after such periods. Many other benefits will befall you. You will also get accustomed to watching your background thoughts during the day, during certain activities which do not demand your entire attention. More and more self-awareness will come to you on all levels.

When you do this exercise, approach it in a very relaxed frame of mind, and at the same time try to use your calm inner will. Most important of all is not to feel frustrated when you do not succeed, when you find yourself involved in unbidden background thoughts. Rather, use the experience as a means to understand what I am trying to explain. Such an approach will be most beneficial. It will open vistas to you and will get you eventually to what we are after. If at one time or another you find it impossible to concentrate in this manner because your thoughts always come back to something particular, that is a sign that this something ought to be investigated, that it contains a seed of one of your conflicts. If such is the case, you will not be able to become calm until you have found some clarification. Remember, calmness is indispensable for this exercise!

Even minor success in this exercise will bring marked improvement in many ways. In addition to the benefits I outlined before, in addition to the power to discriminate between your foreground and background thoughts, you will derive further benefits, such as a general power of discrimination; increased inner and outer vitality; better memory; clearer and stronger thoughts; and, last but not least, the increased ability to make your inner will function. Your inner will is necessary to follow through and learn what we are discussing here. In turn, your inner will is bound to function better to the extent you learn concentration. You will learn the ability to direct your thought process and attain calmness of mind as the background thoughts decrease.

From lecture 71, REALITY AND ILLUSION ? CONCENTRATION EXERCISES:

I should like to give some further advice about the concentration exercises. I must observe that, unfortunately, my friends are not doing them as would be good for them. You have all been a little lax in this respect, and this is a pity.

So, let me give you some further suggestions with which some of you may find it easier to succeed. Many people have to try various approaches until they find the one best suited for them. When you sit down for a few minutes of such practice, first observe your mood. See if you are impatient or hasty. Then ask yourself, “Where am I hurrying to?” What do I think I miss by spending a few minutes on these exercises?” See the unreality of this haste. There is some feeling in you that this is a waste of time. Then consider what a disproportionate amount of time you actually do waste on daydreams or on insignificant floating thoughts of which you are only half aware. Yet when it comes to sitting down for five minutes or so, your feeling is, “This is a waste of time.” You have all sorts of things to do that are more important. Realize the preposterous illusion of that emotion. By observing this attitude and mood, gaining a little distance from it, you will experience a certain amount of peace and relaxation.

The next thing you may do, when you are completely relaxed in body and mind, is to close your eyes and try to see yourself as you sit there. Concentrate as though you were outside yourself, or as though someone else saw you sitting there; see what you wear, what your posture is, your facial expression. This is not egocentricity, nor does it lead to it, my friends. It merely leads to a detached self-observation. As you do this, you will undoubtedly find yourself becoming more calm. As you thus observe yourself, you may discover certain facial expressions you may otherwise not have noticed. You may feel, for instance, that your mouth pulls down, or your shoulders sag; or that you forcefully straighten them in an unrelaxed, artificial way.

Observe all that as you would closely observe another person. You do not have to do it for long. Then do either one of the exercises I mentioned previously. Or try another one, which is a little more advanced, but which some may find even easier. Watch yourself as you are not thinking. Be on guard for what thoughts may come. This is one of the best means of preventing background thoughts, which take you away from the here and now. You can almost feel yourself standing poised on guard at a sort of threshold. If you succeed, be it only for half a minute, it will have a wonderful effect on you.

If after a few seconds the chain is broken, never mind. Do not get impatient with yourself. Start again, observe again your state of not thinking. Observe the emptiness there. The more you succeed, the more you will see how you are in the present, aware of the moment, neither in a haze of vague, floating, often irrelevant thoughts, nor in a dream world. When you float away into the unreality of your uncontrolled thought process, you are not in full awareness of self and of the moment, and therefore you are in unreality. The background thoughts you float away with are always away from you, as you surely will observe.

After you have succeeded in this exercise, be it only for a short time, you will have a wonderful opportunity for prayer or meditation, or to instruct your subconscious. For then you are fully open, receptive, and alive. You will be better able to formulate your thoughts, thinking of that which you need most in the present phase of your development. Whenever you feel confused or uncertain about something you have found recently, or about something that bothers you, the best time to state your question, your confusion, is after these concentration exercises. This is always the first step toward gaining the necessary clarification. At such time, you may also express your intention to put aside all resistance toward facing yourself and changing where necessary. This is the time in which you can best observe the reaction of your subconscious when you utter such an instruction in its direction, or ask God for help. How much does your subconscious cooperate? It does, if you feel the unreserved desire to face anything that is within yourself. If you feel uneasy and anxious, if you wish to limit such insight, you know that the child in you resists — and you should know by now that this is damaging for you and against your best interest.

You can also utter such instructions or intentions in clear-cut foreground thoughts every time you feel you cannot “stand on guard” anymore. Each time your thoughts aim to float away from you into a vague haze, that is the moment to catch yourself. It is easier then to think constructively with deliberate and valuable foreground thoughts.

From lecture 36, PRAYER:

In the first place, prayer is the best exercise for learning concentration. Without the ability to concentrate you cannot achieve anything in life. You need to be able to concentrate when you are on the path. Many systems exist in your world that advise particular, separate concentration exercises. My advice however is that prayer and concentration exercises can be combined.

There is no better way of learning to concentrate than by a systematic way of praying. By focusing on an object you will not learn concentration any better than you will by zeroing in on what you want to pray for. You can simultaneously derive the benefit of prayer without losing time by concentrating on some non-essentials. Anyone on the path must learn to focus attention on what is really essential. Concentration on an object is not essential, but may be better than nothing, so that someone who has no belief in God may at least learn concentration.

Daily prayer is important because of the concentration and the discipline that are prerequisites for the process of purification. How can you be on the path if you cannot give yourself a necessary and regular discipline? How can you be on the path if you are unable to concentrate on the mainstream of your life, specifically your spiritual development?

You learn to concentrate when you pray, for instance, for your loved ones. First, you engage in the mental process of thinking of them; then to that mental process you bring your feelings and the depths of your soul, your deepest wishes for God’s grace. The same procedure should be practiced in praying for your enemies. Here the mental process may not be so difficult, but uniting your feelings with your good will may be a lengthier task. Pray for individuals you know, as well as for humanity and all spirits in the universe as a whole. Pray for peace, the spreading of truth and the fulfillment of the Plan of Salvation. Pray for all the blind creatures who are still in darkness. Pray for the purification process of more and more individuals. Concentrate on the thought forms of everything you have learned: the necessity for self-unfoldment through self-recognition; the overcoming of the lower self; the rechanneling of wrong currents, and the attainment of love, brotherhood, humility, and the union and development of all beings. Such thoughts create clear, light, and good forms that will definitely have effect.

This most creative activity will strengthen your mind, even if it does nothing else. Of course, your thoughts will stray at the beginning. Of course, you will have difficulty maintaining and focusing your attention, but that is the work to be done. If you do not let yourself become discouraged by the inevitable initial hurdles, eventually, little by little, you will learn to pray better. When your thoughts wander, just start where you left off without any self-reproach, being mentally and emotionally as relaxed as possible. Prayer is a training that is part of your development.

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To my teacher Marieke Mars who taught me self-honesty. To my courageous and loving pathwork helper Dottie Titus.

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