What Is Concentration Meditation?

That is a really good question. There isn't much to concentration meditation, the meditation techniques are quite easy to learn and there is very little theory. The difficult part is to concentrate with steadfast, yet relaxed attention.

It is the opposite of Vipassana or insight meditation, where there are more complex meditation techniques and plenty of theory. However, in practice most meditators find insight meditation easier.

Please note that experienced meditators often combine the two techniques. First they calm the mind with concentration meditation, and then they cultivate wisdom with insight meditation.

Let's take a look at what concentration meditation really is.

Imagine that you focus your attention on your breath. In other words, the breath is your meditation object. All you have to do is give relaxed attention to the sensations of breathing, for example in the abdomen.

In concentration meditation, you can't afford to be distracted by thoughts and sense impressions. If the mind is distracted, the concentration won't be steady. Therefore, Buddhist monks often practice in nature and even in caves.

What is more, you have spent most of your life thinking. That is to say, the thinking has built up an enormous momentum. So, don't expect it to stop overnight...

The Levels Of Concentration

Concentration can be divided into different levels or stages. The lowest level is referred to as moment-to-moment concentration. In the beginning, it's hard to focus on the meditation object for very long. Yet, everyone is able to concentrate for a short while, or phrased differently, everyone is able to concentrate on and off.

The next level of concentration is often called access concentration, since it gives access to absorption concentration. It is characterized by moderate amounts of mental energy and is almost effortless to maintain.

The highest level of concentration is named absorption concentration and is divided into 8 stages. Each stage has its unique qualities. Generally speaking, one can say that absorption concentration is characterized by high amounts of mental energy, it's virtually effortless to maintain and the higher stages are deeply calming and pleasurable.

In my experience, the truly calming qualities start at stage 4 and onwards.

When you meditate and the concentration becomes steadfast, you automatically transition from moment-to-moment concentration to access concentration. This transition is accompanied by rapture and a dramatic increase in mental energy.

Likewise, when the concentration becomes really solid you automatically transition from access concentration to what is commonly referred to as transparency, because of the light blue color you perceive with your eyes closed. The first few times you experience transparency, it feels like poking your head into paradise. It's really serene.

The transition to transparency generates a lot of rapture and mental energy.

If your concentration remains stable, you will automatically transition to the first stage of absorption concentration. In my experience, the 8 stages of absorption concentration generate a variety of mental states. For example, stage 4 and onwards are deeply relaxing, while stage 6 is extremely pleasurable.

You experience a transition whenever you go from one stage of absorption to another.

All the transitions are experienced individually depending on the person's sensitivity, level of awareness and mental development. Furthermore, the increase in mental energy fuels concentration, while the rapture suppresses physical discomforts; this reduces distractions, which in turn makes it easier to concentrate.

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Progress In Concentration Meditation

Like with any form of meditation, progress is gradual. I find that concentration meditation requires a measure of talent. If you are not gifted, you are unlikely to experience the highest stages of concentration.

That said, I believe that most people who set their minds to it, can learn to enter access concentration.

In the beginning, it may take you hours of meditation to enter access concentration. With experience, you may be able to enter is less than a minute.

For speedy progress, consider the following pointers:

- It's natural to make progress during meditation retreats, since the mind gets focused and calm. The longer the retreat, the better. It is much more effective than practicing 1-2 hours of meditation a week.

- Avoid unnecessary talk while in retreat, or you will think about the latest conversation while you are meditating. It can take hours of meditation to subdue the thinking. The quickest fix is to take a short nap, which effectively resets the mind.

- Put thinking, planning and daydreaming aside during meditation practice. The mind wants to engage in these activities whenever it is restless and bored.

- Give relaxed attention to your meditation object. Trying too hard only results in physical and mental tension. Simply give relaxed attention and let the power of concentration propel you forward.

- Make relaxed, yet ongoing effort. Cultivate discipline and a willingness to make effort. Never give up.

- Make meditation the most important part of your life. Give it a top priority.

- Familiarize yourself with the mind. Aim to know your mind as well as you know your body. Meditate while you are sleepy, hungry, restless, bored and angry. Learn how various mental states respond to meditation. This understanding will help you immensely.

- The first 10-100 times, the rapture feels so good that many novice meditators stop meditating to fully enjoy the pleasant mental states. This, does not result in any progress. Rather, acknowledge that there is rapture and bring your attention back to the meditation object.

- There are hundreds of meditation techniques that can take you to high levels of concentration. If one is really difficult for you, try another one. Find out what works for you. It's important to use a meditation technique that comes easily.

- Receive guidance from an experienced concentration meditator.

- Do retreats, meditate at home, on buses, trains, in nature and whenever you have time to kill.

- Alternate between walking and sitting meditation. Walking meditation tends to build up more mental energy than concentration, while sitting meditation tends to generate more concentration than mental energy. Walking meditation is also a wonderful way to stretch the legs. Keep in mind that it is possible to enter high levels of concentration during slow walking meditation. The slower you walk, the easier it is to concentrate. Find the pace that suits you. Do walking meditation whenever you are sleepy.

- If you use the same meditation object for both walking and sitting meditation, you are bound to make faster progress. When you always give attention to the same meditation object it becomes a habit, as opposed to having multiple meditation objects. It is also easier to master one meditation technique than many. However, I wouldn't recommend this to someone who is new to meditation, since it's easier to learn walking meditation by giving attention to your feet.

Best of luck!

Related:   Concentration   Insight Meditation   Rapture In Meditation

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