Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras describes the practice of samyama which is a power of identification that results from the systematic development of dharana (holding the mind on to some particular object), dhyana (an unbroken flow of knowledge in that object) and samadhi (reflecting on the meaning, not the form of the object). Wherever the power of samyama is directed, upon whichever object or focus, a state of identification with that object takes place and direct knowledge occurs for the practitioner. (n.b. description and meaning courtesy of Swami Vivekananda in his lectures on Raja Yoga).
Many techniques utilized to focus the attention have been developed by yogic practitioners over time. Tibetan Buddhist practitioners developed the science of inner visualisation as a means of focus, shutting out all extraneous thoughts, emotions, or feelings. Certain yogic paths recommend the use of tratak, focusing intensely and solely on a light such as of a candle until the consciousness ‘shifts’ to a new perspective.
In the West, certain forms of athletic activity are enhanced when the athlete happens to enter into the ‘zone’, a status of awareness that blocks out, effortlessly, all extraneous focus, and one becomes the action, solely and completely. Religious seekers have been known to enter into states of ecstatic trance through intense focused devotional exercises.
There is an interesting story from the Mahabharata as the princes were being instructed in the science of archery. They were asked to focus on a particular bird in a tree at some distance, and then to aim their arrow at the eye of the bird. The teacher then asked each one what he saw, and they variously described the sky, the tree, the leaves, the bird and the eye along with the beak. When he came to Arjuna, however, who was to be the pre-eminent archer of the age, Arjuna replied he saw only a dark spot. The intensity of focus was so great that he was not able to see and report on anything other than the actual eye of the bird.
The Mother notes: “One can learn how to identify oneself. One must learn. It is indispensable if one wants to get out of one’s ego. For so long as one is shut up in one’s ego, one can’t make any progress.”
How can it be done?
“There are many processes. I’ll tell you one. … When I was in Paris, I used to go to many places where there were gatherings of all kinds, people making all sorts of researches, spiritual (so-called spiritual), occult researches, etc. And once I was invited to meet a young lady (I believe she was Swedish) who had found a process of knowledge, exactly a process for learning. And so she explained it to us: … ‘It’s like this, you take an object or make a sign on a blackboard or take a drawing — that is not important — take whatever is most convenient for you. Suppose, for instance, that I draw for you… (she had a blackboard) I draw a design.’ She drew a kind of half-geometric design. ‘Now, you sit in front of the design and concentrate all your attention upon it — upon that design which is there. You concentrate, concentrate without letting anything else enter your consciousness — except that. Your eyes are fixed on the drawing and don’t move at all. You are as it were hypnotised by the drawing. You look (and so she sat there, looking), you look, look, look…. I don’t know, it takes more or less time, but still for one who is used to it, it goes pretty fast. You look, look, look, you become that drawing you are looking at. Nothing else exists in the world any longer except the drawing, and then, suddenly, you pass to the other side; and when you pass to the other side you enter a new consciousness, and you know.’ “
“We had a good laugh, for it was amusing. But it is quite true, it is an excellent method to practice. Naturally, instead of taking a drawing or any object, you may take, for instance, an idea, a few words. You have a problem preoccupying you, you don’t know the solution of the problem; well, you objectify your problem in your mind, put it in the most precise, exact, succinct terms possible, and then concentrate, make an effort; you concentrate only on the words, and if possible on the idea they represent, that is, upon your problem — you concentrate, concentrate, concentrate until nothing else exists but that. And it is true that, all of a sudden, you have the feeling of something opening, and one is on the other side. The other side of what? … It means that you have opened a door of your consciousness, and instantaneously you have the solution of your problem. … It is an excellent method of learning how to ‘identify’ oneself.”
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Identification, pp. 144-149