Sunday, March 25, 2007

Concentration and the Life of the Spirit

This photo is a shout out to my way too cute niece who is a Winnie the Pooh Lover. In this picture, Pooh is practicing a spiritual discipline: FOCUS.

As usual, the Sunday edition of the New York Times has all the best kinds of articles. This Sunday is no exception as it has a piece that hits on something that I have been meditating on a great deal since I was accepted to a doctoral program that God willing, I will start in the Fall. The issue is the need for concentration in my efforts to serve humanity. The piece deals with research on multi-tasking. Here is a choice quote from the article:

“Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes,” said David E. Mayer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.”

The human brain, with its hundred billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of synaptic connections, is a cognitive powerhouse in many ways. “But a core limitation is an inability to concentrate on two things at once,” said René Marois, a neuroscientist and director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University. Read the whole thing here.

While the focus of the article is on the implications of this research for business, I think that it also has implications for the development of the soul. The Baha'i Writings have this comment about the power of focus:

So long as the thoughts of an individual are scattered he will achieve no results, but if his thinking be concentrated on a single point wonderful will be the fruits thereof. One cannot obtain the full force of the sunlight when it is cast on a flat mirror, but once the sun shineth upon a concave mirror, or on a lens that is convex, all its heat will be concentrated on a single point, and that one point will burn the hottest. Thus is it necessary to focus one's thinking on a single point so that it will become an effective force. (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 110)

In all Holy Scripture, "light" is an image that is used for the Divine, for knowledge, and for wisdom. One could think about concentration as a means of being more effective at our activities of daily living, but it could also be seen as essential to spiritual growth itself. I think this becomes even more clear when I consider one of the selections from the Baha'i Writings that deals with work as worship:

In the Bahá'í Cause arts, sciences and all crafts are (counted as) worship. The man who makes a piece of notepaper to the best of his ability, conscientiously, concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God. (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 176)

It would seem that the Baha'i Writings are telling us that the concentration on a given task is what transforms it from the material to the spiritual, from the mundane to a form of worship.
Thus if I want whatever I am doing to be infused with spiritual power and meaning, then I need to focus, which means I may have to not do a zillion different things at the same time. This may mean that I have to sacrifice the habit of taking on too many things, however worthy those things may be so that I can concentrate on a few, turn my work into worship of God and be in a continual state of prayer, the sweetest of conditions, "This is worship: To serve mankind and minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer."

So dear reader, how concentrated are you in your life?