Meditation Is Not What You Think

Moyo Musings - Reflections for Growth


When we sit listening to a meditation teacher or meditation app instructing us to focus on our breath or a particular object, we are being guided to harness our attention. A Sanskrit word for this process is “dharana” meaning concentration or fixed attention. This is an important and necessary step, on the path to meditation.


At the start of practicing meditation, the mind is restless, moving from one thought to the next. This is referred to as “monkey mind” like the primate that simply swings from one branch to another in pursuit of whatever catches its eye. Dharana is a process of beginning to bring the mind into a single-pointed focus.


There is a story in the epic poem from India, The Mahabharata, which makes the point. The archery teacher is holding a contest. A statue of a vulture is place high in a tree. As each student approaches to take his turn he is asked what he sees. They each respond, “I see you, the tree, the sky, the bird, and all who have gathered around.” Every student who gave that response missed the shot.


Finally, it is the protagonist Arjuna’s turn. The archery teacher asks Arjuna what he sees. Arjuna replies, “I see the head of a bird.”


The teacher asks if he sees anything else. He replies, “I only see the head of a bird.”


Arjuna shoots his arrow and hits the target.


Dharana is about strengthening the power of concentration. Doing so helps us to be fully present. This is a necessary preparatory step. As we gain more control of the mind, we can progress to experience actual meditation.


Like any other muscle, you can make your mind stronger at focusing on a single object. Laser focus can help in all aspects of your life. These days, many of us jump from one thing to another – from work, to FaceBook, to Instagram, to e-mail, to a text message, to work, and so on throughout the day. Dharana is about the practice of controlling what your mind focuses on.


Improving your ability to focus can also improve your relationships and your own mental health. Being fully present in daily situations enables you to “flow” or “be in the zone,” as often described by accomplished athletes. For those who are parents, it also may satisfy a longing in your children for your undivided attention.


Practice being focused and present throughout your day. Schedule time for specific tasks and stick to it. This will help you to strengthen your concentration and accomplish more. It will also make it easier for you to practice dharana when you sit for meditation. The idea is develop control of your mind so you can move beyond thinking into the true experience of meditating. It is process where practice counts. Eventually thoughts subside. Remember meditation is not what you think. (Pun intended.)


Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash