You must evince good interest in the practice of concentration. Then only your whole attention will be directed towards the object upon which you wish to concentrate. There can be really no concentration without a remarkable degree of interest and attention shown by the practitioner. You must, therefore, know what these two words mean.
Attention is steady application of the mind. It is focussing of consciousness on some chosen object. Through attention you can develop your mental faculties and capacities. Where there is attention, there is also concentration. Attention should be cultivated gradually. It is not a special process. It is the whole mental process in one of its aspects.
Perception always involves attention. To perceive is to attend. Through attention you get a clear and distinct knowledge of objects. The entire energy is focussed on the object towards which attention is directed. Full and complete information is gained. During attention all the dissipated rays of the mind are collected. There is effort or struggle in attention. Through attention a deeper impression of anything is made in the mind. If you have good attention, you can attend to the matter in hand exclusively. An attentive man has very good memory. He is very vigilant and circumspect. He is nimble and alert.
Attention plays a very great part in concentration. It is the basis of the will. When it is properly guided and directed towards the internal world for the purpose of introspection, it will analyse the mind and illumine very many astounding facts for you.
Attention is focussing of consciousness. Attention (Avadhana) plays a conspicuous part in concentration. It is one of the signs of trained will. It is found in men of strong mentality. It is a rare faculty. Brahmacharya wonderfully develops this power. A Yogi who possesses this faculty can even fix the mind on an unpleasant object for a very long time. It is easy to fasten the mind on an object which the mind likes best. Attention can be cultivated and developed by persistent practice. All the great men of the world who have achieved greatness have risen up through this faculty.
Throw your entire attention into whatever you happen to be doing at the moment. Practise attention on unpleasant tasks from which you have been shrinking before on account of their unpleasantness. Throw interest upon uninteresting objects and ideas. Hold them on before your mind. Interest will slowly manifest. Many mental weakness will vanish. The mind will become stronger and stronger.
The force wherewith anything strikes the mind, is generally in proportion to the degree of attention bestowed upon it. Moreover the great art of memory is attention; inattentive people have bad memories.
The human mind has the power of attending to only one object at a time, although it is able to pass from one object to another with a marvellous degree of speed, so rapidly in fact, that some have held that it could grasp several things at a time. But the best authorities, eastern and western, hold to the "single idea" theory as being correct. It agrees with one's daily experience also.
If you analyse carefully the mental functions or operations, no one process can be singled out and called attention. It is not possible to separate attention as a distinct function. You observe something; therefore you are attentive.
Attention belongs to every state of consciousness and is present in every field of consciousness. An attentive student in the spiritual path can do hearing (Sravana) of the Srutis in an efficient manner. The military officer says "attention," and the soldier is ready with his gun to carry out his behests. An attentive soldier alone can hit the mark. No one can get success either in temporal or spiritual pursuits without attention.
There are Yogis who can do eight or ten or even hundred things at a time. This is not strange. The whole secret lies in the fact that they have developed their attention to a remarkable degree. All the great men of the world do possess this faculty in varying degrees.
Attention is of two kinds, viz., external attention and internal attention. When the attention is directed towards external objects, it is called external attention. When it is directed internally within the mind upon mental objects and ideas, it is known as internal attention.
There are again two other kinds of attention viz., voluntary attention and involuntary attention. When the attention is directed towards some external objects by an effort of the will, it is called voluntary attention. When you have an express volition to attend to this or that, it is called voluntary attention. The man understands why he perceives. Some deliberate intention, incentive, goal or purpose is definitely involved. Voluntary attention needs effort, will, determination and some mental training. This is cultivated by practice and perseverance. The benefits derived by the practice of attention are incalculable. Involuntary attention is quite common. This does not demand any practice. There is no effort of the will. The attention is induced by the beauty and attractive nature of the object. Individuals perceive without knowing why and without observed instruction. Young children possess this power of involuntary attention to a greater degree than grown up people.
If a man is not observant, he is not attentive. If he observes something, he is said to be attentive. Intention, purpose, hope, expectation, desire, belief, wish, knowledge, aim, goal and needs serve to determine attention. You will have to note carefully the degree, duration, range, forms, fluctuations and conflicts of attention.
There is great attention, if the object is very pleasing. You will have to create interest. Then there will be attention. If the attention gets diminished, change your attention to another pleasant object. By patient training you can direct the mind to attend to an unpleasant object also by creating interest. Then your will will grow strong.
If you closely watch, you will note that you observe different objects at different times. This perception of now one object and now another, when the physical conditions are constant, is known as fluctuation of attention. Attention is changing. The objects themselves change or fluctuate but there is no fluctuation in the observing individual himself. The mind has not been trained to bear prolonged attention. It gets disgusted through monotony and wants to run towards some other pleasing object. You may say, "I am going to attend to one thing only," but you will soon find that even though you attempt very hard, you suddenly perceive something else. The attention wavers.
Interest develops attention. It is difficult to fix the mind on an uninteresting object. When a professor is lecturing, when the subject is abstract and metaphysical, many people leave the hall quietly because they cannot attend to a subject which is not interesting. But if the same professor sings and tells some interesting and thrilling stories, all people hear him with rapt attention. There is pindrop silence. Lecturers should know the art of attracting the minds of hearers. They will have to change the tone to talk with force and emphasis. They will have to watch the audience and see whether they are attentive or not. They will have to change the subject-matter for a short while and bring in some nice stories and suitable illustrations. They will have to look at the hearers directly in their eyes. So many things are necessary if one wants to become a successful lecturer, if one wants to make the hearers attentive.
Napoleon, Gladstone, Arjuna and Jnanadeva had all wonderful power of attention. They could fix their minds on any object. All scientists and occultists possess attention to a remarkable degree. They cultivate it by patient, regular and systematic practice. A judge and a surgeon can get positive success in their respective professions only if they are endowed with the power of attention to a high degree.
When you do any work, plunge yourself in it. Forget yourself. Lose the self. Concentrate upon the work. Shut out all other thoughts. When you do one thing, do not think of any other thing. When you study one book, do not think of any other book. Fix the mind there steadily like the arrow-maker who had no consciousness of his surroundings. Eminent scientists are so busy and attentive in their experiments and researches in their laboratories that they forget to take food even for days together. Once a scientist was very busy at his work. His wife who was living in another district had a serious calamity. She came running up to him to the laboratory with profuse tears in her eyes. Strange to say, the scientist was not a bit agitated. He was so very attentive at his work that he even forgot that she was his own wife. He said, "Madam! weep for some more time. Let me make chemical analysis of your tears."
Once some gentleman invited Sir Isaac Newton for dinner. Newton repaired to his host's bungalow and took his seat in the drawing room. The gentleman forgot all about Newton, took his dinner and retired to his bed. Newton was amusing within himself very absorbedly on some important point of science. He did not stir from his seat. He forgot all about his dinner and remained in the same chair like a statue for a long time. The next morning the host saw Newton in the drawing-room and then only remembered his having invited him for dinner. He felt sorry for his forgetfulness and apologised to Sir Isaac in a meek voice. What a wonderful power of attention Sir Isaac Newton had! All geniuses possess this power to an infinite degree.
According to Prof. James we attend to things because they are very interesting. But Prof. Pillsbury is of the opinion that things are interesting because we attend to them or because we are likely to attend to them. We do not attend to them if they are not interesting.
By constant practice and ever-renewed effort of attention a subject that, in the beginning, was dry and uninteresting may become full of interest when you master it and learn its meaning and its issues. The power of concentrating your attention on the subject may become stronger.
When a great misfortune has befallen you, or when you pass in review a certain course of conduct in order to find out the cause of failure, it may take possession of your mind to such a degree that no effort of the will can make you cease from thinking over it. An article has to be written, a book is in the process of preparation; the work is carried on even if there is loss of sleep, and you are unable to tear yourself away from it. The attention which began voluntarily has taken entire hold of the field of consciousness.
If you possess strong power of attention, anything that the mind receives will be deeply impressed. An attentive man only can develop his will. A mixture of attention, application and interest can work wonders. There is no doubt of this. A man of ordinary intellect with highly developed attention can turn out more work than a highly intellectual man who has a poor attention. Failure in anything is mainly due to lack of attention. If you attend to one thing at a time, you will get profound knowledge of that subject in its various aspects. The ordinary untrained man of the world generally attends to several things at a time. He allows many things to enter the gates of his mental factory. That is the reason why he has a clouded or turbid mind. There is no clarity of thought. He cannot do the process of analysis and synthesis. He is bewildered. He cannot express his ideas clearly, whereas the disciplined man can attend to a subject exclusively as long as he likes. He extracts full and detailed information about one subject or object and then takes up another. Attention is an important faculty of a Yogi.
You cannot attend to two different objects at a time. Mind can do only one thing at a time. Because it moves with such a tremendous velocity backwards and forwards, you think that the mind can attend to several objects or things at a time. You can only see or hear at a time. You cannot see and hear at the same time. But this law is not applicable to a developed Yogi. A developed Yogi can do several things at a time because his will is not separate from the Cosmic Will which is all-powerful.