Concentration and the Art of Listening

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Concentration/ Art of Listening

What is Concentration

Concentration is the power to focus the mind on any desired line of thought. Development of this power is an art, practice for which should be introduced from the very beginning i.e. from the pre-school stage in humans. Concentration channelises all energies of our system to focussed attention on the particular thing to be concentrated upon.

Mental efficiency depends upon one’s development of the art of concentration. All men of success have been men of great concentration; men who could dive deeply into their problems and come out with right solutions.

From the beginning in childhood when humans start learning doing things themselves, attention/concentration is needed in every act, howsoever, insignificant it may be. Even a simple act, like fastening of shoe laces or threading a needle requires attention/concentration.

Concentration is deploying the power inherent in humans by which (i) they can free their attention from objects of distraction which cause hindrance in concentration, and (ii) directing the freed power to the desired activity which requires concentration.

Concentration and intuitive faculties have to be developed in order to expand the power of the mind so that it can assimilate the facts you feed it. The ability to listen also requires concentration. Through concentration, awareness is transferred into the power of attention. Concentration enables us to focus our attention on what is being said.

Why Humans Generally Lack Concentration

In practice, however, this important aspect of our lives remains undeveloped. The subject of concentration is not taught in schools, colleges or universities. Whatever little is learnt through normal practices remains with us throughout our lives. We go on struggling, sometimes up and sometimes down the ladder but are not able to do much about it. Even an ordinary businessman or another similar professional uses only about twenty-five percent of his power of concentration. One of great cause of the failure of people in business is the lack of concentration. Great businessmen and social and spiritual reformers are, however, men of keen concentration.

How Concentration is linked to Brain

Concentration is the master function of the brain. Focussed concentration is the most influential power of all our mental abilities. The Oxford Dictionary defines concentration as the intense mental application. It is the main executive function of the brain and is the prime ability that controls all other functions of the brain. Our overall mental performance and total brain power depends on the level and focus of concentration.

All the cognitive abilities such as memory, reasoning, imagination, creativity and intuition depend on the focussed concentration which ultimately reflects on brain power. Scattered and fragmented attention on many things and many places affects brain activity and slows it down. Thus mental efficiency depends upon one’s development of the art of concentration. All men of success, like Albert Einstein, have been men of great concentration.

Learning Concentration

Concentration is the inherent faculty in humans. For learning concentration you have not to go anywhere. Just start doing small acts of work in your life with proper attention. Make it a rule of your life that anything that passes through your hands will bear a mark of excellence on it. Practice and you will succeed.

Some simple tips of help in learning concentration are:

– The subject or object of concentration should be of interest to the person willing to concentrate.

-Do not fatigue your mental capabilities unnecessarily by watching TV, talking on mobile or sleeping late at night for one reason or the other. Early sleep between 9 to 12 pm refreshes you double than sleep after 12pm.

-Do not continuously sit at one place for long hours. Keep moving after short intervals. Movement of the body sends more oxygen to your brain helping you to concentrate better.

– Use focussing, indirect steady light on your study table. Avoid glares.

– Sit on a not overly comfortable chair and table. Dining type chairs are best suited for the purpose. Sit up straight to aid concentration.

– Do one thing perfectly at a time. Let other things rest for taking up at their own turn. Whatever you do, do with a stamp of perfection. Good work is the best substitute for the genius; it is better capital than cash; it is better promoter than friends. Concentration is the key. Do not pay attention to distractions. Take phone off the hook. Keep your mobiles in silent mode.

– Meditation is the most powerful of all concentration techniques. Learn a few simple meditation methods* and practice them daily starting from five minutes to 15 minutes. Sitting still and calmly for a few seconds before taking up work for the day is also a type of meditation.

*Author’s book ‘Just 7 Days to Excellence (Published by Unistar Books Pvt. Ltd, Chandigarh, India) outlines simple meditation techniques with examples of guided meditation.

–          Above all have the courage to focus on what is important, have adequate courage to concentrate. Arouse the sleeping lion in you. Temptations to avoid focussing your efforts are ever present. Deal with them with the courage of a hero.

– For achieving results that astonish those who do not master the most valuable secret of concentration put to good use all odd minutes, half-hours, unexpected holidays, gaps “between times” and chasms of waiting for unpunctual persons, etc.

Swami Vivekananda says,

 “We all concentrate upon those things that we love and we love those things upon which we concentrate our minds on. Concentration is the systematic development of the mind. The very essence of education is concentration of mind, not the collecting of facts. If I had to do my education again, I would not study facts at all.”

He continues:

World is ready to give up its secrets if we only know how to knock, how to give it the necessary blow. The strength and force of the blow comes through concentration. There is no limit to the power of the human mind. The more concentrated it is, the more power is brought to bear at one point. This is the secret.”

How Concentration Works

Concentrated attention is very sharp. You can very well understand it by using a magnetic glass or convex lens to concentrate sunlight. Dispersed rays of the sun are warm and comforting; but when concentrated and converged they become very powerful and even may ignite any inflammatory material.

How Meditation and Concentration help each other

The teachings of both the Masters as well as Raja Yoga system of Patanjali lead us to the most practical and efficacious method of meditation for a happy and balanced living. A proper meditation, however, requires you to first attune yourself to the thought that you are going to sit in meditation for your Beloved God and it needs your complete attention/concentration. In fact when you do a work with full concentration it becomes a sort of meditation.

Swami Vivekananda says: “The main difference between men and animals is the difference in their power of concentration. All success in any line of work is the result of concentration. All knowledge that we have, either of external or internal world, is obtained through only one method—by the concentration of mind.”

Paramahansa Yogananda says, “When a problem thwarts you-when you find no solution and no one to help you-go into meditation. Meditate until you find the solution. It will come. I have tested this hundreds of times, and I know the focussing power of attention never fails. It is the secret of success. Concentrate, and don’t stop until your concentration is perfect. Then go after what you want. As a mortal being you are limited but as a child of God you are unlimited. Connect your concentration with God. Concentration is everything. As your attention becomes focussed with practice, it will burn out all deficiency from your mind and you will feel the power of God coming over you. That power can destroy all seeds of failure.”


The Art of Listening:

                The Dictionary meaning of listening is—hears with attention, pay close attention to or give heed to. Have you ever examined how you listen? It may be to a bird, to blowing wind in the leaves, to the rushing waters, to your friends, to your relatives or to any other person with whom you normally communicate. Perhaps, never. Isn’t it really hard to examine one’s own self!

Why Listening is important

J. Krishnamurti says,” The simple act of listening can change people’s lives and the world. When you are listening to somebody, completely attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it and not part of it.”

Listening goes beyond a verbal exchange of words and feelings. It includes how well we pay attention and how we form, what we perceive, into meaning. Listening is an act that connects us with the universe, throughout the totality of time and space. Very few of us, however, listen with that quality of attention. Let us examine this important aspect in our lives in more detail.

When we try to listen, we find it extraordinarily difficult, because we are always projecting our ideas and opinions, our prejudices, our backgrounds, our inclinations, our impulses, etc. And when these things dominate, we hardly listen at all to what is being said.

How In that state there is no value at all. One listens and therefore, learns only in a state of attention, a state of silence, in which the whole background is in abeyance, is quiet.

Usually, we use our sense of listening in a routine of the type we breathe air. It is such a common experience everyday that we just hear words without paying much attention to the process of listening. As an experiment, while you are reading these lines, just pause for a moment and think how you are listening to the meanings behind the words in these lines. Next time when you are talking to your spouse or children, friends, relatives or colleagues, always pause in- between, to think that you are listening to them properly.

Listening is a state of presence which includes attentiveness to what is in the foreground and background of our attention. In fact, the ideal type of listening would be where action, feeling and thinking happen in harmony with each other.

*Steve Gazzano, in his article on ‘Resolving Conflicts through Understanding’ recommends reflective listening as a means to resolving conflicts. His views are reproduced below:

“Many people are so busy multitasking on their favourite mobile devices these days that they don’t have the time or patience to focus on another person in any meaningful or caring way, let alone listen to them patiently and acknowledge their viewpoint. Because of this we are becoming islands of isolation, often feeling adrift. We are offended by others’ actions, we feel they are not listening, and we are frustrated and angry. So what are we to do?”

“By learning the skill of reflective listening, individuals can slow down heated conversations and come away feeling empowered—Often this moment casts the problem in a whole new light and generates the feeling that the other party has a valid viewpoint too.”

“Reflective listening involves both reflection and listening. Reflection is to introspect deeply and consider what has been said. But, crucially, it also means to reflect back—repeating to the other person in your own words what he or she said. Listening is being attentive; it is being fully present in the moment, not looking at your mobile device or impatiently waiting for a chance to interrupt so you can start talking again. Nor is listening just a period of silence in a conversation for you to plan your next move and launch a counterattack. Listening is like the rain: it is nourishing, soothing, and can give that understanding we all look for in our relationship with others.”

Once Rajarsi Janakananda (James. J.Lynn), spiritual successor to Paramahansa Yogananda was sitting to listen to his Guru’s discourse. As the Guru started saying opening prayer—“Heavenly Father, Mother, Friend, Beloved God”—Rajarsi got so intoxicated with the words that he almost fell to one side of the chair he was sitting on. Other participants got curious to know how it had happened. The Guru said,” He knows how to listen.”

Rajarsi’s relationship with his Guru was characterized by a profound receptivity to the smallest detail of his Guru’s spiritual counsel. Paramahansa Yogananda once said, “When students ask me why Saint Lynn was able to make such rapid progress, I reply: He knows how to listen.”

Interestingly, the alphabets contained in the words ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ are the same. You can listen to the all permeating sound of Aum or Amin by remaining truthfully silent.

*Steve Gazzano, has been a member of Self-Realization Fellowship of Paramahansa Yogananda, for more than 30 years. He has a Master’s degree in Dispute Resolution from the University of Massachusetts. His article was printed in SRF magazine of Spring 2012.

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