Concentration. Absorption. Happiness.

By Heather Lilleston, June, 2010

“During the time I was actually focused on drawing… I wasn’t conscious of feeling “happy,” or of feeling anything at all. I was in the closest approximation to happiness that we can consistently achieve by any kind of deliberate effort: the condition of absorption… an absorption in the immediate so intense and complete that the idiot chatter of your brain shuts up for once and you temporarily lose yourself, to your relief.”
—Cartoonist and NY Times writer, Tim Kreider, article “Averted Vision”

One of the main goals of the yoga practice is to develop ones concentration, known in Sanskrit as dharana. Through a keen narrowing in on a single point of focus, the fluctuating ripples of the mind are lassoed into one giant wave. As all the desires spiraling around in our consciousness weave together, anchoring lightly on one object, we enter the sweet state of dharana. Everything settles inside and we aren’t fidgeting or jumping away from where we are. There is a sense of fulfillment and contentment. It is the state of missing nothing, the state of yoga.

There’s no real trick to concentration, you just have to do it. It isn’t about trying or setting up all the right conditions (certain conditions can help, though they won’t take away the work of landing the mind on one point). Dharana doesn’t come through force, it comes when we take what is in front of us and soak it up gradually and fully, like a sponge. It is the result of falling in love with the present moment, the result of loving what is before you and seeing it as it is. It requires having the willingness to look at one thing and trust it is enough.

Then, when we have sat with one object for enough time, we slip into an effortless state of absorption. Absorption is another word for dhyana, also known as meditation. The breath becomes even and there is an ease of being untainted by the fear of losing the thing that was responsible for our happiness because no matter what the outer circumstances we can always practice concentration. As we delve deeper into the joyous state of absorption, we will eventually flop over into the state of Samadhi, or perfect happiness, perfect meditation. Samadhi, or this deeply grounded and untainted state of happiness is the result of concentration and absorption, not the object before us. As we narrow in, the narrowing in makes us vast, big enough to see what is divine and profound with whatever it is that is right in front of us.

Mr. Krieder describes it well:

“We do each have a handful of those moments, the ones we only take out to treasure rarely, like jewels, when we looked up from our lives and realized: “I’m happy.” One of the last times this happened to me, inexplicably, I was driving on Maryland’s unsublime Route 40 with the window down, looking at a peeling Burger King billboard while Van Halen played on the radio. But this kind of intense and present happiness is heartbreakingly ephemeral; as soon as you notice it you dispel it, like blocking yourself from remembering a word by trying too hard to retrieve it. And our attempts to contrive this feeling through any kind of replicable method — with drinking or drugs or sexual seduction, buying new stuff, listening to the same old songs that reliably give us shivers — never quite recapture the spontaneous, profligate joy of the real thing. In other words be advised that Burger King billboards and Van Halen are not a sure-fire combination, any more than are scotch and cigars”.

What we need is to start getting interested in concentration! If we could become infatuated with a concentrated mind, rather than the object we seem to be zoomed in on, then we will find more contentment with more people, more objects, more places.

Heather Lilleston

Heather is a Yoga Shanti-trained teacher, an advanced Jivamukti yoga teacher, and co-founder of Yoga For Bad People. She currently lives in the tropical island oasis of Manhattan, traveling to cold cities worldwide to teach retreats. You can find her at Yoga Shanti Sag and NYC, Yoga Vida NYC, and Love Yoga, Montauk.

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