4 mins read.
I suspect that, like me, you’d generally prefer to be relaxed. We want to chill out, unwind, let go. Maybe we’ve had a very stressful day so we think, Okay, how am I going to relax? Oh, I know, I’m going to … I don’t know exactly what you do to relax. Maybe you get into YouTube or Netflix. Or maybe you pour yourself a glass of wine, or start chatting with someone on social media or IRL, or maybe you go out somewhere.
If you check, whatever it is we’re doing is usually more of a deflection from stress than an actual cure. In this last article on concentration, I gave the Buddhist definition of distraction:
A deluded mental factor that wanders to any object of delusion.
In and of themselves, these “relaxing” activities can end up as more distractions, agitating our mind in different ways.
Say we’re at a restaurant – we’re having a nice enough time until we start to think, “Where are we going after this? What happens next?” Our mind is still in a distraction-seeking mode, meaning that it is still more or less distracted. Relative to our stressful workday, perhaps it’s more pleasant – and in this way it’s a relative kind of relaxation (also known as the suffering of change). But it’s not deeply relaxing. We haven’t actually let go of the stress — we’ve simply distracted ourselves from it with another distraction.
So then what happens? We go back to work the next day already a bit wound up and get just as stressed out as before. As we continue turning to this, that, and the other to feel better, our distracting, pleasurable activities don’t lead to deep peace in themselves because they’re still the nature of distraction,
Turning—as we are so wont to do—to external objects, people, events, and activities to find happiness never works for long because peace and happiness come from inside, not out. A lot of us know that – it’s Buddhism 101, isn’t it?! If the mind is peaceful, we’re happy. If it’s unpeaceful, we’re not. Turning to external distractions is going to help us feel better only if our mind is already peaceful — otherwise it can, in fact, just shake our mind up even more. If we really want to relax, and if we really want to let go of stress and worry and the rest of it, then we need to concentrate.
Concentration is the way to have an authentically fun time. That’s not what we normally think. What we normally think when we think about concentration is Yikes! because we think of concentration as pushing our mind to do something it doesn’t really want to do. For many of us, it has that connotation.
But some words we find in Dharma teachings, ordinary English words and phrases, have somewhat different meanings when they’re used in Buddha’s teachings. For example, sometimes when we first hear about “patience” or “patient acceptance” we think it means we’ve got to repress our anger or grit our teeth or something like that. But that’s not what patient acceptance is at all. It’s accepting happily, wholeheartedly, whatever appears, without the futile wish that reality was otherwise. It’s a completely relaxed, open, non-tense, yet proactive mind that gives us the chance to change things on a deeper more effective level.
Or maybe when we first hear the word “effort,” we think “Whoah! That sounds a bit exhausting.” No. Effort is all about joy. Joyful effort. Enthusiasm. It’s energy. Joyful energy is another way to say it. It energizes rather than tires us.
Similarly, when it comes to concentration, it’s not what we might think at first. Maybe hearing the word “concentration” makes us suddenly remember being in school and told to “Concentrate!” when all we could think was, “No, I want to play!” We’re left thinking there’s some contradiction between concentration and having fun, right?
But the reality is not that concentrating is going to be really hard work, pushing or shoving the mind to go this way or that, making it do things it doesn’t want to do. It’s actually about relaxing and having a lot more fun. Honestly. It’s about feeling peaceful through preventing distractions and focusing on relaxing things — being able to settle the mind into beautiful spacious objects like love, or wisdom, or the peaceful nature of the mind itself.
So if we’re thinking, “Why do I want to learn to concentrate? Why do I want to be a better meditator?” we can remember this important benefit, “From concentration comes peace.” If I want to be peaceful, I need to learn about concentration. If I want to really relax, I have to concentrate so I can let go of my distractions and my problems. If I want to actually have fun, concentration will allow me to slip into the zone. If I want to be able to cope with everything and become more and more deeply stable and resilient, concentration is needed for that. Distraction and delusions are my enemy and the powerful mind of concentration will rid me of these.
One practical tip: between work and settling in for a night’s entertainment, do 5-10 minutes of breathing meditation to let go of the itchiness in the mind, the craving for more distraction. Feel heart-centered.
This is continued here, From concentration comes peace.
Over to you. Do you like concentrating?! What will make you enjoy it?