Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of August 10, 2009

Concentrating Consciousness

(Part 7 of 9 in the series: Stages of Becoming Conscious)

Concentrating consciousness means accumulating the conscious energy in a particular individual or group. The group approach to concentrating consciousness generally seems easier to put into practice than the individual approach. However, because we are not often, perhaps once a week if we’re very lucky, in the type of group situation that concentrates consciousness, we also can profit enormously from studying how to work at this on our own.

First, though, how can a group can concentrate consciousness? Communal prayer is the paradigm. The more each member of the community enters into the common prayer, the more support each receives from the others, and the more consciousness embraces them all. This positive feedback loop of simultaneous and proximate communal prayer offers profound help to all the participants, quickly bringing them into a deeper state of prayer than their own contribution would seem to justify.

That help derives from the shared purpose and shared focus, the confluence of separate wills into a common will, which gives the conscious energy a broad base of support among the worshippers, greatly multiplying the result. That broad base opens an umbrella of the stillness and peace of consciousness over the whole group. The same holds for meditation and other spiritually-oriented practices performed in a group. There is a type of spiritual magic at work here, reminiscent of Christ’s saying: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.[1] It seems magical because we are usually not directly aware of the workings of the conscious energy, even during communal spiritual practice. Nevertheless, the whole emerges as much more than the sum of the individual parts.

On our own, we can concentrate consciousness in many ways. The first grouping of these ways includes any practice in which we focus our attention on some object, inner or outer. Collecting, applying, and holding our attention draws the conscious energy into the effort and into our being.

A typical and effective example is the Buddhist practice of breath awareness with counting. Here’s how. Place your attention on the sensations of your breathing, wherever you find them most prominent: the nostrils, the upper chest, or the abdomen. Do not change the breathing, just bring your attention to it and keep with it in a relaxed manner. Mentally count the breaths from one to ten, and then start over at one. The counting is secondary: keep your primary attention on the sensations of the breath. Between the continuous breath awareness and the counting, you are making a sufficient demand on your attention to leave little or none left over to stray into other thoughts. But if and when you do lose count, start over at one. When you can stay with the breath continuously for five or six cycles of ten, you can safely drop the counting and just be with the breath or move on to the rest of your exercise or meditation. You may find the nostrils most effective for this exercise, because its smaller area takes more focus to stay continuously attentive to it. The end result is a state of more consciousness.

Once we are aware of consciousness itself, we can draw more of it directly into our being by reaching out with our will, with our attention and intention, into the field of consciousness and willing the conscious energy into us. This is a subtle exercise, requiring as a prerequisite familiarity and contact with the formless substance of cognizant stillness, the endlessly adaptive, clear, and pliant stuff of consciousness itself. The effort is akin to pulling space itself into us. A strong presence can exert a gravitational attraction as it were on consciousness, making us even more conscious.

Finally, deep prayer creates consciousness in us. The high energies, beyond consciousness, that we open to in profound prayer, cascade into us, blending with our sensitive energy to create more of the conscious energy. This particular transformation of energies gives us the feeling that participating in this action is a key element of our role in life, our true role as human beings. The more we enter consciousness, the more the people around us can share in its peace.

For this week, practice concentrating consciousness.

[1] Matthew 18:20


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