In his lecture on treating the sick and wounded, Hazrat Inayat Khan tells us that one of the essential qualities needed for healing a person is concentration. He says:
When we go to a wounded person or a sick person, all our thoughts should be fixed on him, on the healing. If such thoughts come as: “I must go to the office for such a work,” or “I must go to the Holborn restaurant for luncheon,” or, “My aunt said she would write a letter, and she has not written,” then we have no concentration and we shall not heal the patient. We must develop the will by concentration.
His description of the wandering mind might make us squirm with embarrassment. We have the impression that he is quoting verbatim from thoughts overheard in the minds of mureeds, although, being supremely tactful, he would not have wanted to point directly at anyone. Nevertheless, he knew what he was talking about, and so do we – who has not had the experience of engaging in a conversation, for example, pretending to listen attentively, all the while thinking about other matters.
Not surprisingly, when this text was the object of a recent group discussion, the question arose: why is it so hard to develop concentration? Hazrat Inayat Khan speaks again and again of the need for this, and yet, even after years of effort, our mind still seems to ignore our endeavours to direct it.
It is true that concentration is difficult to master, and even a person far advanced on the spiritual path will say, ‘I wish I had more of this power.’ But we can be helped in our struggle if we think for a moment about the levels of consciousness. For the average person, whose heart is asleep, ‘consciousness’ means the chatter of the mind, and trying to direct that flow, or to silence it, is like a dialog with an unruly two-year old – it seldom goes as we wish.
When the heart begins to waken, though, the power of concentration becomes much stronger. The mother of a new-born baby can spend hours in wordless rapture, simply studying the irises of her gift from heaven. Then it is easy to ignore the chatter of the mind. And similarly, when a person rises still further, when the light of the soul begins to manifest to view, the voice of ‘thought’ fades into the distance and is forgotten. Therefore, if we feel frustration in our battles with our mental babble, perhaps we need to shift the level of our attention, from the hectic office of the mind to the more spacious temple of the heart.
There is also a clue in what Hazrat Inayat says, above, in the connection between will and concentration. We develop will, he tells us, by concentration, and the reverse is also true: we develop concentration by will. Returning to the image of the mother and the baby, she concentrates because she wishes to; she has no other desire than to spend time with her new-born, and for that reason the world goes on around her unnoticed.
When we truly wish, we can learn concentration in an instant – and that is why a foundation of all spiritual practice is the awakening of the ideal. If we seek the ideal with sufficient intensity, then concentration is developed automatically. And if we feel that our concentration is faulty, perhaps it is only that we have not yet discovered what it is that we truly long for. As Mevlana Rumi said, “You must ask for what you truly want.”