“Your own mind is the cause of happiness, your own mind is the cause of suffering. To obtain happiness and pacify suffering, you have to work within your own mind.” Lama Zopa Rinpoche
A young monk went to his teacher and asked if the brain was the same as the mind. The old monk told his student that if he believed that his mind resided in his brain then he must find it and bring it to him. Essentially he was instructing the young man to explore the nature of his mind through observation of thought and how it functions. Does your mind have shape, color, or form? Where does it reside and from what point do your thoughts arise? Do your thoughts have substance or, in dissolving, do they leave no trace? Coming to understand the nature of your mind trains you for a deeper concentration in your spiritual practice.
The path described by Ashtanga Yoga, the eight-limbed path, includes concentration (dharana) as the sixth limb and occurs only after you have been able to establish a single pointed focus on an object, word, or breath. After sitting in meditation for 15-30 minutes, you should begin to feel your body getting lighter and more relaxed. In the back of your mind, you may be semiconscious of your body and your surroundings or you may have no awareness of them whatsoever. You can concentrate on the OM mantra, or the even flow of your breath. It is not unusual to experience a feeling of great happiness while in this state of concentration; but be aware that this happiness is not the same as pleasure that arises from sensual delight.
It is important that you know the difference between focus, concentration, and meditation. Although they are each employed to gain freedom from the mind’s afflictions of attachment, pride, anger, jealousy, and greed, they are separate lessons on the path. A key point to remember, according to brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., author of My Stroke of Insight, is though you may think of yourself as a thinking creature who feels, biologically we are all feeling creatures that think. And our “reptilian” or emotional brain, although functional, does not mature throughout our lifetime. Thus, when our emotional buttons are pushed we respond as we would as a child. By following the Eight Limb practice of yoga you can improve the brain’s higher cortical cells to balance the child-like limbic mind resulting in a more mature response to any situation.
Next: How to Improve Your Concentration and Sharpen Your Intellect
Dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation) have the power to sharpen the intellect. A trained intellect can comprehend subtle, philosophical, and complex problems, whereas a disciplined intellect can carefully differentiate the happiness derived from concentration and that of sensual objects. Knowing the subtle difference can free the mind from its attachment to sensual pleasures and create a lasting joy that emanates from deep within one’s true Self.
As you improve your concentration, new channels will form in the brain, new thought currents will be generated, and new brain cells will form. You are transformed on a cellular level. This constitutes the creation of a new mind, new feelings, new sentiments, positive emotions, and joy that fills your heart as you awaken to each new day.
This meditation brings in the elements of nature to help you return to your natural Buddha-mind. Take a moment to sit alone in silence, draw the curtains or the blinds, and light a candle and place it in front of you. Gaze into the candle’s fire. Allow your thoughts to merge with the flame. Bring your awareness to your breath away from your mind’s chatter. Then bring the light of the flame into your heart, feeling the warmth spread throughout your body. Keep your concentration on the fire’s glow, letting all thought dissolve in your complete presence of the moment.
Watching the flame with open eyes trains the mind to concentrate. Having a point of focus helps prevent you from getting lost in the endless chatter of thought. This gazing on a single point of light expands your ability to stay present, leading you closer to full meditation.