During the practice sessions this week the sangha has been reflecting on the meditative practice of Concentration or focused Observation that, when practiced without desire for attainment, clears a space for Insight and Wisdom as revelations of essential nature.
Mark Demmel shares his own experience of this unfolding.
Historically, the idea of Concentration has led to painful thoughts and feelings for me because I was concentrating on what I was not that I needed to become. To focus & work toward a goal, to increase one’s resilience, to grow, to build, to become better, to do it the way a leader/parent/guide does it, to allow shifts in direction & motivation, to not miss the moment when it comes to you. The ways I looked at concentration often led me to be thinking about a better, future state of my life, which took hard work and great effort to arrive in this future me. I found myself often not embodied, unable to connect deeply & healthfully to the people and life around me in ways I craved nourishment. Concentrating on that which I wasn’t yet, led me to believe the state I currently found myself in was not good enough, or wrong, or bad. This left a door to shame open and that door let all kinds of things in. How could I ever become that which I wanted to be and feel?
The future state of me which could never come into the present reality efforted and worked so hard to become that which it thought it needed to be….to be okay, again. A scared little kid, who had gotten some slams (of various kinds) became that which it deeply resented. I recently took a morning walk in nature on a beautiful land painted with oaks, pines, valleys holding signs of deer and coyotes, and a refreshing morning joy that had me moving slowly and feeling open to the day. On my return, I sensed my 4 year old self high upon my shoulders, taking in the hike with an elder, parent, and trusted friend. I physically put my arms around the 4 year old’s legs straddling my neck. It felt really good. I was a bit surprised by the experience as much as I was over-joyed. Why was my 4 year old trusting me? I wasn’t concentrating on fixing anything, healing my broken parts, working hard to glean some great wisdom from nature. I was just present, enjoying the moment, giving the least amount of effort to the effortlessness of a simple morning walk.
Later that night, caught up in some emotions of sadness and grief to be leaving good friends and the land I was enjoying, I forgot about my 4 year old and I pushed my body in places it did not want to be pushed. I took my hammock high in a tree and tried to sleep with the many coyotes howling every 15-20 minutes. Trying to milk every last drop of “growth” out of the day & night, even at the cost of losing sleep, with a long drive the next day. My body did not settle. My goal to sleep in a tree failed. I even felt the skin itch, which I had not experienced for several months. The coyotes were loud, yipping, hollering, going all night. Finally at 3am, I climbed down the tree and went back to the place that invited me to sleep before setting off into the dark night. My body immediately settled and a peaceful rest fell upon me.
The next morning I remembered my 4 year old. I apologized. I acknowledged the pattern of pushing myself hard, working to be better, urgent to get to that improved future state, at all costs. I’m grateful for the gift from my younger self, inviting me into the present moment, where everything is as I should be, no heavy effort needed, trusting myself, all the parts, working together to allow a needed sense of ease back into the way I concentrate. The serious one was invited to be kind. The strong handed & stubborn adult was invited back to gentleness. I invited myself (all parts) to the conversation where I listen more than I speak. Patience, real honoring and tender patience is returning. The 4 year old enjoys adventures, but they are trusting me to honor their voice in the matter, for me to trust a renewed idea of Concentration. All of us will be “better” for it.
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