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Back on the Path: Right Concentration

April 1, 2017
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Photo by THE ZEN DIARY via Flickr.com

February and March Update

Last October, I began to consciously work the Eightfold Path into my life. Then life got busy. I did not give up on the habits I have been trying to inculcate, but my capacity for new efforts diminished in the face or workplace and academic demands.

In February and March, I continued to attempt, with some spotty regularity, to adhere to healthy routines in the morning, workday, and evening.

My morning routine includes writing for one hour, usually on my dissertation, but sometimes other topics, meditating for ten minutes, and having a bowl of oatmeal before leaving the house.

During the day, I try to take a couple of brisk walks around campus, limit caffeine intake, and, during March, I began packing healthier homemade bento lunches. So far, I am very happy with this new habit.

After work, I take the dog to the park and (if I can muster the energy) jog about half a mile of our 1.3 mile route. In the evening I do at least two chores, eat a healthy dinner with my sweetheart, watch television (2 episodes only), do push-ups and other exercises, shower, and try to get to bed early. Soon, I want to incorporate at least a little reading for my dissertation into this routine.

I am better at some of these habits than others. In other words, I fail often, but not usually at all of them in any given day.

So while I took two months off from consciously trying to incorporate new habits into my path, I did fairly well at maintaining current habits and made progress on healthy eating and wasting less food, which was one of my November goals.

Right Concentration

It is time to get back on the path and start where I left off: Right Concentration.

Lopez and Buswell’s dictionary defines this as “concentration of the mind on wholesome objects.” It is often associated with meditation, but I recall that Thich Nhat Hanh also talks about wholesome consumption of the mental objects, such as books, movies, music, and television shows. Over the years of my Buddhist practice, I notice that my tastes in media have changed. I tend to avoid stimuli that sparks attachment (i.e. consumerism), aversion (i.e. excessive violence and horror), and delusion (i.e. most news outlets). This is a subtle manifestation of Right Concentration.

However, most Buddhist traditions agree that intense meditation is necessary to deeply cultivate Right Concentration. In the Pali Cannon, this cultivation is synonymous with the jhanas or states of “meditative absorption” in the object of meditation to the exclusion of external stimuli. The first stage of this absorption helps one overcome hindrances in one’s path. To my knowledge, I have never obtained or experienced a jhana, even in my best meditation.

What then, can I do to cultivate Right Concentration? I think perhaps I must start at the beginning.

Round 1: Deepen regular meditation practice.

  • Continue ten minutes of breath meditation each morning
  • Once per week, hold a longer, guided meditation session
  • Throughout each day, attempt to maintain focus on one task at a time and minimize distractions and digressions (i.e. “killing time”)
  • Remain mindful of the five hindrances by posting them where I can see the list regularly and ask myself about my present moment experience:
    1. Sensuous desire hindering focus
    2. Malice hindering rapture
    3. Sloth and torpor hindering applied thought
    4. Restlessness and worry hindering joy
    5. Skeptical doubt hindering sustained thought

Round 2: Deepen meditation practice through one-day retreat.

Round 3: Deepen meditation practice through multi-day retreats.

May: Right View

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