In chapter 7 of Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh, he writes to us about meditation in daily life. There is a section that speaks to a specific use of meditation for insight, and refers to concentration as the first practice of meditation.
Thich Nhat Hanh gives us the example of a son who becomes an unbearable young man. We want to love him, but he makes everyone unhappy. Thich Nhat Hahn states that the only way to love him, would be to understand him and his situation. By understanding him, we can have compassion and love.
To gain the understanding, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that we use meditation, and make the son the subject of our meditation. Instead of using the concept of emptiness or some other concept as the subject of the meditation, we use him; we explore him, we look to see how he came to be like he is, the causes and his situation. The more we see, the more we understand, and the more we can feel the compassion and love.
In order to begin the meditation with the son as the subject, we have to clear our feelings and thoughts. These feelings and thoughts invade and deplete our strength in meditation. We need to focus and cultivate the power of concentration.
A state of intense concentration achieved through meditation is called “Samadhi” in the Sanskrit language. We have to focus and stop the things that divert our attention. This is natural for us, we just have to focus, concentrate and stop that which is diverting us, like a child has to turn off the TV or radio to do her homework. Much like an athlete or artist, when they are in the “zone”, a state of focused concentration, and they achieve and create so much more, we too have to focus and concentrate in order that we achieve, create and, in the case of the son, understand.
Thich Nhat Hanh gives the example, that much like a light bulb in a lamp where we use a shade to concentrate the light so we can read the book, as we practice concentration, it gets easier and stronger, and we develop our own power of concentration that we bring through our will and focus to gain more understanding and insight.
This type of meditation about the son Thich Nhat Hahn refers to as an insight meditation. We are aware of a problem and we look deeply into it to understand its real nature. Then we can have compassion or reach resolution.
When we run into a situation, like with a troublesome son, it is important we don’t blame. We just want to understand. So we focus and concentrate, in meditation, to look at the situations from all sides. We imagine ourselves in the situation, as the person, and look at their perspective. Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “The more we see, the more we understand. The more we understand, the easier it is for us to have compassion and love.”
Another example he gives is if we grow a tree and it doesn’t do well, we don’t blame the tree, we look into why it isn’t growing well. The same is for people and situations. To blame, to argue, and to reason your position does not generally lead to a positive effect. To understand, hear the other and show you understand, and this allows you to open, to love, and as Thich Nhat Hahn writes, “the situation will change.”
There is a good practice to improve concentration. It is called the Candle Exercise. You will need a candle, a timer, a paper and pencil. Light the candle, set the timer for 10 minutes, and then focus and concentrate on the candle flame. Each time you notice your mind wander or notice something else, make a mark on the paper. Do this daily for 10 minutes each day, and even if you start with 100 marks in 10 minutes, you will train your brain and mind to focus, so after a period of time, you will get to a mark or two on the paper. Be patient. Afterall, you have spent years training your brain and mind to be scattered. Now you can lovingly train yourself to concentrate.