If you are new to the idea, concentration exercises are the necessary prerequisites to a successful meditation practice. In fact, if you are having difficulty meditating, it could be that you are missing some of this foundational work. While you might think that you do plenty of concentrating at your job and probably don’t need to do more of it in your spare time, just remember that even strenuous physical labor is no substitute for a good cardio-vascular program. Musicians, writers, ball-players, dancers – all benefit from their specific exercise routines. They are essential to mastering your discipline.
Concentration exercises are not really “spiritual” exercises. They are essential, but any process that requires your undivided attention for at least fifteen minutes is an exercise in concentration and will give you the benefits of a focused awareness. Playing chess, composing music, jumping rope, playing tennis, giving a speech – these are all legitimate ways to improve your ability to meditate, because a mind that can concentrate is a powerful instrument, regardless of what it is engaged in.
The Orange Concentration Exercise is perhaps better than most exercises in that it incorporates universal symbols while at the same time utilizing the mind’s native functions of inductive and deductive reasoning. Check out the Orange Exercise in Exercises.
Spiritual exercises are different from concentration exercises in that they generate a movement of Spirit. In order to do a spiritual exercise, you have to have first acquired concentration skills; the orange and candle exercises are very useful for this. But spiritual exercises are designed to bring you into the experience of the movement of the Spirit. The word “Spirit” means “God in action.” God is a sentient, living force that continually moves through Its creation. It is That without which nothing could exist. Just as an electronic circuit without electrical energy moving through it is as inert as a pile of wire, so is a mind without Spirit. God’s intelligence is everywhere, but in order to manifest life, It has to be focused. Otherwise, It exists only in potential. This is the function of mind. And a well-tuned mind is powerful indeed.
Here is a little-known spiritual exercise that demonstrates the movement of Spirit in a way that is not only practical but fun. It begins with a need. Think of a lost object that you wish to find, one that you know is within your vicinity but hidden. It should be an object you know the feel of, one you know well. Realize that this object, like all objects, makes a “sound.” All physical substances vibrate, and whether their vibrations can be detected by our eardrums is irrelevant, because our ears do not hear anything anyway; it is the auditory centers in the brain that “hear.” So by listening for something that is impossible to hear with your ears, you are instead listening with your brain. I used to work in a large shop filled with equipment and cabinets full of tools. Misplacing tools was a daily occurrence. I would use this technique all the time, and it never failed to work. I would fix the image of the tool I was looking for in my mind’s eye and isolate its “frequency.” Once firmly established in my consciousness, I would then walk right to its location.
Metal tools, such as wrenches and pliers, are particularly easy to find because they are metallic, and metal vibrates easily. It “rings” with the slightest disturbance, even the disturbance of mental attention. But you can use this technique to locate almost anything, even a location across town. Every location has its signature sound, its “character.” If you know what that is, you can tune into it, and your mind becomes a homing pigeon. But to do this, you have to be able to concentrate; you have to be able to filter out all unrelated thoughts and impressions. How do you know when you have this ability? It’s when someone speaks to you and you do not hear them, or when you look up and realize that an hour has gone by in what felt like ten minutes.
Try this out. Learn to detect energy as it moves through your consciousness. Become sensitive to its tracks the way a hunter tracks an animal. It is the movement of energy that makes this a spiritual activity and not merely a psychic one. Psychic activity works through mental impressions; spiritual activity is alive. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Jn 10:10