Concentration refers to your capacity to choose what you pay attention to and what you ignore. It’s an important magickal skill (an important life skill in general). You’ll need to concentrate fully whether you are performing a devotional act, in prayer, during ritual, while casting a spell, teaching, or learning. Sometimes it seems impossible to do. The dog is barking, the neighbour is mowing the lawn, the kids are fighting. Plus there are a lot of things competing for our attention and studies suggest that our attention span is decreasing.
Despite all this, we all have the ability to concentrate. Think about the times you were engrossed in a superb novel, spellbound by a fantastic movie, playing your musical instrument, or dancing. Without an external device to capture us, such as a novel or a movie, concentration can be difficult, but think of it like a muscle; the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Let’s look at some tips and techniques for improving concentration.
The first things are boring scientific stuff you already know: drink plenty of water and get enough sleep.
Become aware of when you are most focused. For instance, my mind is sharp in the morning and starts to get fuzzy around 4pm. Knowing this means that I schedule my most important tasks in the morning when I am most energetic and productive. It also means I know when to take a short break, have a snack, and recharge.
Focus on one task at a time. We live in a culture that often glorifies being busy and uses business as a measure of productivity and success. Multitasking actually reduces productivity, wastes more time, results in more errors, and creates mental blocks. When you do one important thing at a time, your brain just works better.
Set aside time to worry. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate, relax, or even sleep because we can’t stop thinking about things we have to do or issues we are struggling with. The most effective method I have found for this is to take a few minutes and write it all down. The possibility of forgetting something important contributes to your anxiety. Obviously it won’t win you the job or pay the water bill, but it feels like you’re getting it out of your head and it will give you a sense of relief.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting, and non-judgemental focus of your attention on your thoughts and emotions on the present moment. It’s being fully in the present. When learning how to be mindful, concentrate, and meditate, we can be really hard on ourselves. We compete with ourselves and beat ourselves up for becoming distracted. Mindfulness may be the the first step towards achieving deep concentration because it is the ability to simply accept, without judgement, where you’re at. Mindfulness doesn’t react; it simply observes and has no fixed object of focus.
Clear away distractions. Turn the phone off. Say no to Facebook for an hour. Settle into a peaceful, comfortable space with dim light. Light a candle or burn some incense.
Choose to block out distractions. It may seem to contradict the advice on clearing away distractions, but the reality is that there will always be a dog barking, a child crying, a lawnmower powering, etc. It’s wonderful to have a quiet space to meditate or perform magickal work, but it isn’t always possible. Don’t wait to have it and, if you don’t have it, don’t let that stop you. You can let the noise bother you or can choose to ignore it. It may be extremely difficult at first, but don’t give up; you can do it.
Learn to meditate. We can gain concentration through meditation. Whereas concentration is about fixing your attention on a point, meditation includes a wide variety of techniques and applications that train the mind to help you get there.
Practice concentration techniques. A Google search will result in a number of techniques from health, psychology, and spiritual websites. There are also a number of books available on the subject. Here are a few:
Practice with a physical object. Direct your attention towards a physical object and study it. Examine its size, shapes, textures, colours, etc. Relax and be fully present with the object. If your attention wanders, return it to the object. Begin with a minute or two and slowly progress to more time.
Practice with nature. Many of us have touched upon a deep level of concentration while watching the waves crash upon the rocks at the shore or gazing at a beautiful sunset. When practising with natural phenomenon, attend to it wholeheartedly. Notice the light, the sounds, the colours, the vibrations, and so forth.
The white dot. I find this technique boring and pretty challenging, but you might like it. Draw a small black dot on a white piece of paper. Stick the paper to the wall with the dot at eye level. Stand two or three metres from the paper and then look at the dot. And keep looking. Don’t look at anything else. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the dot. Practice this daily and increase the amount of time.
Remember to take breaks and be gentle with yourself. Emphasize quality over quantity. It’s better to focus fully for five minutes than struggle with a wandering mind, boredom, and anxiety for ten.
How is your level of concentration? What techniques do you use to increase your focus?