‘Automatic’ Concentration

If we wish to accomplish a task, it will require some level of concentration, and the more concentration required, the more difficult we consider the job. Persuading a thread to slide through the eye of a needle, for example, asks us to hold our hands steady, focus our gaze and ignore the ringing of the telephone or any other activity in the room, but only for a moment. Writing a novel, starting a business or solving a problem in the community all demand that we concentrate our thoughts upon the elements involved and view therm from different angles for a considerable time, and the task will appear much harder to us. On whatever level, concentration is not easy, but it is necessary for any endeavour, whether in the outer world or on the inner planes, for thought is creative, and all creation, whether of material forms or of happiness, arises from thought. It is for this reason that one of the first lessons of the Sufi path is to develop the power of concentration.

Speaking on this theme, Hazrat Inayat Khan makes the point that there are two kinds of concentration. The first is that which we direct intentionally, but, perhaps surprisingly, he also speaks of ‘automatic’ concentration, of which we are mostly unaware, but which nevertheless can have a large effect upon our life. Whenever we concentrate, we direct the power of thought into the creation of a form, and if we carry with us many impressions, assumptions and preconceptions, those will also have a creative effect, either harmful or beneficial depending upon their nature.

For example, if a person has an assumption that their health is not strong, then the least discomfort will be amplified by their thought into something greater. When such an automatic thought of illness is strongly established, it will be difficult for even the most skilful doctor to bring good health. There are others, though, whose concentration works in the other direction and their belief and trust in good health sustains them through many passing storms. Similarly, there are some who adopt the thought that they are surrounded by opposition, and inevitably they encounter opponents on every side, while others have an unrecognised concentration on friendship, and such souls will be friendly to those around them and will easily find friends.

It is not a simple task to undo the work of automatic concentration, because to do so we must first become aware of it. One whose concentration supports the idea of misery cannot change overnight by declaring, “Now I believe only in love and happiness.” The unhelpful thoughts will continue anyway, and appear to make a lie of one’s desired direction of travel. To make such a change requires us to observe our thoughts with scrupulous care and complete detachment as they move within us – for although they mostly pass unnoticed, we habitually believe that we are our thoughts and they are our identity. By such careful study we may then begin to seize those we wish to alter, and force them to go the opposite way.

This is the process Hazrat Inayat Khan calls ‘unlearning,’ and if we persist it permits the complete reshaping of our mental landscape. When we are able to find the good in the bad and the bad in the good, we have taken an important step toward the mastery of our mind – in which lies all the mastery there is.

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