Sri Aurobindo describes the first step to move from a mental seeking to a living spiritual experience as “the practice of concentration of your consciousness within yourself.” We ask what this means exactly. Some observation of our mental state discloses what we normally consider to be concentration. We focus on solving some issue or problem in our lives, or we focus on some experience, some opportunity, some relationship, some event. In each case, we turn our concentration outwards towards the external world and attach our focus to those external objects. If we are not concentrated on some specific outer circumstance, we are, for the most part, receiving sense perceptions, and moving more or less randomly through whatever presents itself to our senses, or rises up as a result of past impressions. We may experience hunger or thirst, desire or ambition of some sort, or may simply distract our attention through various forms of entertainment. We may be caught up in the idea of accumulating clothes, or technology or cars, or jewelry. These distractions do not involve much in the way of concentration generally and the mind jumps from one object to another when concentration is lacking. None of this however, represents the “concentration within oneself” Sri Aurobindo references.
When the seeker first attempts to understand and experience an inner concentration, he is immediately confronted with the almost endless distracting forces of sense perceptions, feelings, thoughts, ideas, and emotions. There is no settled peace in the mind and he may feel like it is an impossible task! Yogic science provides various guiding techniques to systematically prepare for an inward concentration. Regardless of the specific method chosen, with regular practice and patience, the mind eventually comes to a status of quiescence which is the basis for inward concentration. Some paths advise following the breath in and out to attain this initial stage. Others use the combination of a mantra with the breath to drive out thoughts or perceptions which can act as disturbances. Still others recommend putting the whole attention on creation of a mood that one becomes, such as deep aspiration, where nothing else can intervene and the entire being is focused on this aspiration. Focusing on a visualisation, or even on a single point of light can move one away from the surface being and eventually a point comes where one can lose track of time, space and circumstance and simply dwell in an inner space of light and calm. The experience,when it first arises, may occur without warning and without any form of expectation as the consciousness simply shifts away from all surface distractions. It may be helpful to create a space, and a specific time to quiet the mind and undertake the practice, as the regular process sets up a rhythm in the being. Once the inward awareness becomes quite regular, the seeker no longer need depend on such a formal practice or discipline to recreate the inner space of awareness.
Sri Aurobindo notes: “You have asked what is the discipline to be followed in order to convert the mental seeking into a living spiritual experience. The first necessity is the practice of concentration of your consciousness within yourself. The ordinary human mind has an activity on the surface which veils the real Self. But there is another, a hidden consciousness within behind the surface, one in which we can become aware of the real Self and of a larger deeper truth of nature, can realise the Self and liberate and transform the nature. To quiet the surface mind and begin to live within is the object of this concentration.”
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 70-71