The present moment is truly precious, not least because when we are in it, we are liberated from both the history of the past (which we cannot change) and the uncertainty of the future (of which we have very little control).
And yet everything in our lives seems to want to drive us away from concentrating on the Now. We are constantly drawn in so many directions – through our responsibilities as employees, parents, children, friends.. And our minds, full and heavy with chatter, thoughts, judgments, and fears, determinedly pull us away from the ease and calm of the present moment.
The last three limbs of Patanjali’s eight limbs of raja yoga are dharana, dhyana and samadhi. When practiced or experienced collectively, they are said to bring about samyama – a state in which you become fully aware that you are not the body, nor the mind, nor the world around you. In other words, you experience yourself as pure consciousness or awareness.
Dharana, the sixth limb, may be translated as “concentration” or the ability to direct mental activity. And we often find that we are more easily able to focus our attention and concentrate once we have drawn our awareness inwards and have detached from sensory stimulation and impressions. This is pratyahara, Patanjali’s fifth limb.
Disentangling from distractions in order to concentrate is by no means an easy feat. But as with anything, it becomes more accessible the more we practice and train ourselves.
Patanjali states that “concentration is focusing the mind on a particular point” (Sutra III.1 as translated in The Essence of Yoga by Bernard Bouanchaud 1997, 149). This “point” does not necessarily need to be tangible or seen, although it can be. Equally, you might focus fully on a specific concept or idea, a question, or a relationship. The essence of dharana is to honour whatever you would like to concentrate on by bringing your full awareness and attention to it.
Of course, it’s often much easier to concentrate when you’re in calm, peaceful surroundings. The challenge, therefore, is to be able to find a strong level of focus when your environment is full of distraction – when your office is bustling with activity, when your phone is beeping with text messages, or when your inbox is full of emails.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and control our environment and surroundings where we are able to, because calm, clean and tidy surroundings are generally more conducive to a focused and stable mind. But also remember that your internal environment is not bound by the external.
There are a number of ways to help attain a state of dharana. In traditional dharana practice, and usually where the goal is to attain a state of meditation, the focus is often a Sanskrit mantra – repetition of a sacred word, phrase or verse. But mantra has deep roots in every major spiritual tradition and can be found in many languages. You might use any word, phrase or song that has meaning to you and connects you to an aspect of your higher self.
Concentrating the mind need not only be part of the journey to sit and meditate. Most, if not all, aspects of our lives benefit when we offer our full concentration and awareness to them. Other tools to practice dharana include:
Remember that when you give your mind something to focus on – something besides your thoughts – it gives you relief. You are transported to the Now so that you can honour and give your life the full attention it deserves with a greater sense of peace and intention.
Written by Leigh Bosch | July 2021