Concentration, or the bringing of the mind to a centre and keeping it there, is vitally necessary to the accomplishment of any task. It is the father of thoroughness and the mother of excellence. As a faculty, it is not an end in itself, but is an aid to all faculties, all work. Not a purpose in itself, it is yet a power which serves all purposes. Like steam in mechanics, it is a dynamic force in the machinery of the mind and the functions of life.
The faculty is a common possession, though in its perfection it is rare – just as will and reason are common possessions, though a perfectly poised will and a comprehensive reason are rare possessions – and the mystery which some modern mystical writers have thrown around it is entirely superfluous. Every successful man, in whatever direction his success may lie, practises concentration, though he may know nothing about it as a subject of study. Every time one becomes absorbed in a book or task, or is rapt in devotion or assiduous in duty, concentration, in a greater or lesser degree, is brought into play.
Many books purporting to give instructions on concentration make its practice and acquisition an end in itself. Than this there is no surer nor swifter way to its destruction. The fixing of the eyes upon the tips of the nose, upon a door-knob, a picture, a mystical symbol, or the portrait of a saint; or the centering of the mind upon the navel, the pineal gland, or some imaginary point in space (I have seen all these methods seriously advised in works on this subject) with the object of acquiring concentration, is like trying to nourish the body by merely moving the jaw as in the act of eating, without taking food. Such methods prevent the end at which they aim. They lead toward dispersion and not concentration; toward weakness and imbecility rather than toward power and intelligence. I have met those who have squandered, by these practices, what measure of concentration they at first possessed, and have become the prey of a weak and wandering mind.
Concentration is an aid to the doing of something; it is not the doing of something in itself. A ladder has no value in and of itself, but only in so far as it enables us to reach something which we could not otherwise reach. In like manner, concentration is that which enables the mind to accomplish with ease that which it would be otherwise impossible to accomplish; but of itself it is a dead thing, and not a living accomplishment.
Concentration is so interwoven with the uses of life that it cannot be separated from duty; and he who tries to acquire it apart from his task, his duty, will not only fail, but will diminish, and not increase, his mental control and executive capacity, and so render himself less and less fit to succeed in his undertakings.
In the task of the hour is all the means for the cultivation of concentration – whether that task be the acquiring of divine knowledge, or the sweeping of a floor – without resorting to methods which have not practical bearing on life; for what is concentration but the bringing of a well-controlled mind to the doing of that which has to be done?
Culled from MIND IS THE MASTER by JAMES ALLEN