The last step in the Eightfold Path is right concentration. Once we use right mindfulness to become aware of what is going on around us, we can then use right concentration to focus on whatever we desire. We can use right concentration to focus on any object which gives us an understanding of the object as it actually is not what we previously perceived it to be.
Use right concentration to focus on things, with the benefit that you are now living in the present, freeing you from worries of the past and future. Practicing right mindfulness and right concentration is essential to meditation, awareness, and focus in your life.
To practice right concentration you might spend a few minutes focusing your eyes and mind on:
- A full or half moon
- The stars
- A candle
- Water as in a river, lake, or ocean
- A plant or tree
- An animal, reptile, or insect
- A figurine of the Buddha
These are just examples, really anything that appears interesting to you could become a target of your focus. In this act of concentration you are in fact meditating. Later on you might turn your attention from an object to a concept. You might focus your concentration on:
There are really no limits to using right concentration, other than you should use right concentration help you see things as they really are, and there needs to be a positive intent.
The seventh step on the Eightfold Path is Right Mindfulness. Right Mindfulness is about being aware of the world around you and focusing on the present. For most of us this is very difficult to do, as we are always obsessing over what happened yesterday or what we need to do tomorrow.
Through Right Mindfulness we are looking to create a greater awareness of everything around us, not hiding from it, but fully absorbing it. We are seeking to understand our true nature by being fully aware. Right Mindfulness then also implies focus and concentration. Maybe you have found this through playing an instrument, writing, or playing sports. This was a time when you were totally focused on one thing, in the zone if you will. The question for us is are there ways we can cultivate Right Mindfulness? Let me give you a few examples of simple ways that at least might set the stage for it:
- When you go to a meeting leave your phone at your desk.
- When you are talking with someone, stop and listen to them instead of formulating what you want to say next.
- If you are reading at home turn off the television.
- Turn your phone to silent mode, and stop looking at it every 5 minutes.
- Turn off email notifications.
- Go take a walk and use your eyes and ears.
- Stop worrying about the future, it will soon be here, and worrying is pointless.
- Seek out a hobby or activity that requires concentration as this will help you focus on the present.
If you like to worry about the future, remember there is no better preparation for the future than to be completely focused on the present. Great things are accomplished now, not yesterday, or tomorrow.
Right Mindfulness can lead to an uncluttered mind and this sets the stage for the ability to focus on the present. In my next post I will write about Right Concentration.
The fifth step in the Eightfold Path is Right Livelihood. This means for followers of the path that certain professions do not align with the teachings of the Buddha, particularly anything that does not respect the equality of all living beings and life. For instance this would include professions that involve intoxicants, firearms, or the destruction of animals. If we think about professions in our time, then here are a few examples of those that are not considered Right Livelihood:
- Brewing beer or liquor
- Owning a liquor store
- Bar tending
- Member of the military
- Making or selling guns
- Cattle farmers
There are many more of course, but if you think about cherishing equality and life, then you can figure out what type of work does not support these precepts. It is also common that one reserves some time part of their time for community service.
Practicing Right Livelihood builds on Right Understanding, Right Intent, Right Speech, and Right Action all steps in the Eightfold Path. In my next post I we will explore Right Effort.
The question I have asked before is how long should you meditate? There appears to be no right answer, because it can depend on how quickly you can rid yourself of a busy mind. I was sitting this morning and set my timer on my cell phone for 20 minutes, but after only a couple of minutes I had cleared my mind of all thoughts and just listened to my heart beat and breathing. I only meditated for 10 minutes because I was able to reach a calm and peaceful state so quickly.
Then there are other times where I sit for 20 or 30 minutes and may never reach a calm state, and my mind is overwhelmed by thoughts that I just cannot escape. Much of the literature I have read says the optimal time is 20 – 45 minutes, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot benefit from 10 very good minutes as I did today. If you are new to meditation I suggest you start with 10 minutes a day for a week, and then add 5 minutes each week until you get to 20 minutes. Maybe this will not be sufficient on some days and you may need 30 minutes. You need to adjust the times according to how you are feeling and how quickly you reach the desired state of mindfulness.
I am just beginning to add an evening session in addition to my morning meditation, so I cannot really speak to the benefit of this until more time has elapsed. My hope is that I will reap even greater benefits from mediation with a twice a day regime, but we will see.
References that expand upon my own opinions: