The ability to concentrate the mind allows us to function in the world in a coherent manner and to create results in whatever field the concentration takes up. Without concentration, the mind would jump from one perception, one impression, one idea to another randomly and instantaneously as new impulses arise. Everyone has had the experience of concentration, whether it be taking a test in school, or trying to excel at some skill or sport, or in taking up the study of music, art or even, reading a book and being absorbed in it. Sometimes we face a situation where we need to work through a series of steps or options and a period of time elapses as we systematically try to sort out those choices and make the right decision. We can also experience concentration in playing games, with the strategic game of chess being one of long-standing fame and world-wide acclaim as one of the ultimate games that promote the ability of the mind to focus, concentrate and exclude extraneous factors to achieve the result of checkmate. Of course, there are many forms of concentration that relate to specific ideas, thoughts, emotions, plans, feelings or physical situations.
More difficult for most people is a form of concentration that does not latch onto an external object and yet is not a dispersed or fragmented state of consciousness. Once the mind has been habituated to the practice of concentration, such as following a specific thought or idea through along its path, it becomes necessary for the seeker to shift the concentration inwards. The practices of Raja Yoga develop this into a science. Control of the breath, following and focusing on the breath, can become a first step in the process of detaching the concentration from an outer form. As the mind moves to stillness, concentration can be centered in a location such as between the eyebrows, or in the heart, or above the head, without specific ‘content’ other than the sense of the location of the concentration. Another option is to use a mantra or japa to drive out all other random thoughts and then let the consciousness focus so intensely that it no longer needs the japa to remain concentrated. Others focus on an external light, such as a candle flame, until awareness of the flame itself disappears.
Sri Aurobindo recounted a method he utilized to obtain silence in the mind. He observed the thoughts coming in and rejected them before they could take hold. After some time, he was able to obtain the concentrated status of the silent mind.
Sri Aurobindo writes: “The mind is a thing that dwells in diffusion, in succession; it can only concentrate on one thing at a time and when not concentrated runs from one thing to another very much at random. Therefore it has to concentrate on a single idea, a single subject of meditation, a single object of contemplation, a single object of will in order to possess or master it, and this it must do to at least the temporary exclusion of all others…. The first step in concentration must be always to accustom the discursive mind to a settled unwavering pursuit of a single course of connected thought on a single subject and this it must do undistracted by all lures and alien calls on its attention. Such concentration is common enough in our ordinary life, but it becomes more difficult when we have to do it inwardly without any outward object or action on which to keep the mind; yet this inward concentration is what the seeker of knowledge must effect.”
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 69