Why is focus so important on the path of self-discovery? Why is focus so important in discovering your passion, and yourself though it?
When we are focussed, we are one-pointed. That is to say, the mind is occupied with only one stream of thinking. The usual (and dysfunctional) mode of operation of the mind is when we have multiple thoughts running at incredible speeds. We all know how this feels. This is most evident at night when we are unable to fall asleep because the mind is racing. Worries are nothing but unwanted repetitive thoughts. In all these cases, we have lost the ability to say NO. To say STOP to the mind. We have forgotten where the off button to the mind is. For most of us, the mind has taken control of our lives. We have become slaves to the mind. And such a mind is the beginning of misery. And this is the reason why depression is running rampant across the world. It’s not as though the external conditions are bad. On the contrary many of us live in such comfort that was unimaginable a hundred or even fifty years ago. And despite all these external comforts, we see record numbers of depressed people. Why is this?
It’s simply because our minds have been colonized by unwanted thoughts. And we get tired of this very soon, and this leads to despondency and the loss of meaning in life. This leads people to depression and even suicide in extreme cases. Where have we gone wrong?
We lack the ability to focus the mind. The mind has lost the ability to stay on one train of thought. This is where, each one of us must develop a serious hobby. Just look at those people who have a serious hobby – whether it is painting, sketching, gardening, knitting or horse-riding – whatever the hobby, these people have a sense of depth and integrity. You come close to these people and you can almost sense a presence of solidarity, strength and yet peace at the same time. This is because they have managed to train their scattered mind and bring it to the centre. Lets see how this happens. When we start engaging deeply in a hobby then we require considerable mental effort to learn and do. The initial phases of any new skill challenges us. We will need to bring every ounce of concentration to master the skill. Think of learning a new composition on the piano or learning how to knit a complex scarf. In these situations, the mind excludes all other worries, thoughts and so on and stays on the task at hand. It is fully immersed in the senses, observing through the eyes, ears and other senses. During these times, the mind becomes calm and only those thoughts that aid the task surface. We begin to understand that behind the mind is the intention – the intention of focus. This intention and the act of focussing is the “I”. The consciousness that we are. Any serious hobby helps us get in touch with that sense of I. And when we dwell there, we feel complete, peaceful, powerful – time freezes and we go beyond any for or against – any kind of dualities that plague us in our daily existence. It is a journey back home.
Two questions arise at this stage. Why a hobby? Why not your vocation? I say hobby because the action must be done purely for the joy of doing it. There cannot be any external compulsions for doing the action. We have a job because it pays the bills, or because that’s what normal people do. Or because we want fame, recognition and money. Most of us do things to get something else. To grow in our sense of self. In all these actions, something externally comes into us and fills us in order to make us happy. This is a problem because our sense of self is derived from the external world. When the external world changes, which surely it will, then misery ensues. We cannot base our lives on something that is changing all the time. Therefore, we must pick an action which we do only for ourselves – for the joy of the action and nothing else.
The second question is – why not entertainment? Why not spending time with friends and family? Doesn’t this also relax the mind? The answer is NO. When we watch TV or spend time with friends and family, we are switching off the mind. We are slipping into pre-thought. Have you seen the eyes of small kids when they watch TV? They do not want to eat, they do not care for anything else. We feel this calms them, but it actually serves as a drug. It suppresses active thought and masks our feelings. Watching TV is an escape mechanism. We are not transcending thoughts, we are burying it. And the more we bury thoughts and emotions, the more it builds up over time and the harder it is for us to get in touch with ourselves. But what about spending time with family? Here too, company matters. Most company is distractive in nature. People get together and usually talk about people, events, things. Seldom do people talk about what is on one’s hearts and minds and actively look for solutions and new perspectives. Good company is that where you can totally be yourself – without any barriers. We put up barriers because we feel we will be judged. Good company does not judge because they know that they too are in the same boat – going through misery, suffering and problems in life. When we meet family and friends, the conversation tends to be very superficial. This serves to only distract us from ourselves and worse it makes us compare ourselves with others. The best way to judge whether company is good or not is to observe how we feel after they leave. Do we feel empty? Restless? Or do we feel happy, centred, energized?
Therefore, develop a serious hobby and watching television or socializing doesn’t qualify as a ‘serious hobby’. When we start engaging with a hobby, we begin to find it very hard and even painful. Think of the first time you went to gym. Your muscles killed you the next day. Learning something new is not easy for the body and certainly not for the mind. But this is where persistence is needed. This burns up all the impurities of the mind – the thoughts such as “Oh. I am not good at this” or “I don’t think this is for me” or “I don’t think this is the right teacher for me”. Such thoughts are excuses. Beware of them and learn to push on despite the inner resistance. When we get past the tough phase, we start to enjoy the activity and suddenly it starts becoming interesting. And when we continue to engage and learn, we reach the final phase of learning which is mastery. This is a state which is pure bliss. Here, we become so good, that the action becomes second nature to us. When we hold the instrument, music simply flows through it and we become the witness to it. Then, we dwell in who we are – the pure consciousness that is focussed and attentive.
In all these times, focus is essential. And when the mind is focussed, we come in touch with the power of concentration, which is consciousness itself. This is the beginning to peace, joy and wisdom in life.