The last and most important point which I wish to offer as an aid to concentration is purposeful practice. All else is useless if this be left out. This is the real testing-ground. What shall we practise on? From the viewpoint of enjoyable education, it is much better to concentrate on something positive rather than negative; on the things we like to do, rather than the things we do not like to do. So we should choose something worth while and of a pleasant nature for our practice. Then make your concentration test by thinking of this one thing for a given period of time, allowing no outside ideas of any nature to enter the mind. You will be surprised to find how difficult it will be, at first, to hold steady concentration for even one minute. Try it on the following topics:”How I spent my last birthday.” “My favorite book.” “The best moving-picture I ever saw.” “The most inspiring lecture I ever heard.”
Dana has elaborated this plan for practising concentration very effectively:
” There is one way, and one only, in which to develop concentration, to master it. That is by intelligent practice.
” Try to hold a chosen topic of thought for a fixed period of time. Do not be too ambitious. The discouragement of failure becomes more acute. Be content with a minute, at the outset less, perhaps, if your pride permit. You will probably find the time-limit of sixty seconds beyond your powers at first. But try it conscientiously. Observe with the utmost scrupulousness that no outside ideas are allowed obtrusion into the brain. Such absolute control of the mind is difficult. Also, it is interesting, profoundly so, and more profoundly valuable. There need be no help from another: no books, no apparatus for this exercise; no set time, even. Just your brain and your will, tilting together. Any moment of leisure will serve. The few minutes of wait for a car; the coming of another person for an appointment; the interval before falling asleep. Select a subject, then strive to hold it as the center of your thought for the full minute, with-out allowing it to be driven from its place by any other interest. Hold it as a sun in the center of your mental universe. Other ideas, ideas sympathetic with it, will rotate about it, as planets about their orb of light; but they must never eclipse it for a second. If the eclipse comes, just tighten the will a bit and try again. Do not expect the idea to hold itself solitary in the mind. There can be no stagnation in the brain. But make the theme of thought the center of the mind’s activity with all else loyal subjects, marshalled in allegiance. The instant another idea crowds upon the throne, the test has failed, the concentration is at an end. It may have lasted for ten. seconds, for five only. No matter. The important thing is that it should have lasted at all under your conscious direction; that your will should have chosen a topic for thought, and have held it exclusively in the mind for an appreciable length of time. And ponder this: Concentration makes mind; it builds brain-cells. And it makes mental efficiency. And efficiency is the birth-name of success.
“At the beginning of the training, by all means, choose a subject that is attractive in it-self, since this will naturally be more easily retained without too much labor on the part of a supine will. It is quite enough at the outset if you realty learn to scrutinize your own mental processes; if you know definitely, concisely, accurately, that for a set period of time you held a selected topic as the center of your thought, without an instant of intermission. If you hap-pen to be in love, you will find no difficulty in maintaining uninterrupted thought of the object of your affection. But this very fact that the feelings .are deeply engaged will render it almost impossible for you to preserve that watch over your mental operations that is the prime requisite of concentration. Your emotion might inject thoughts of a rival, to the total exclusion momentarily of the loved one. It were wiser to take a theme that is especially agreeable, yet one that is not heart-thrilling. A pleasant incident out of the past will answer the purpose excellently. Let the mind reenact the event as vividly as possible. Observe, always, watchfulness that no thought of unrelated things come upon the scene. When such stranger appears, the will must take another hold of the situation, even as you glance at your watch to note the time-limit of your concentration.
” Do not be discouraged by the fact that at first you will find a constant struggle going on in your brain. Take comfort from the fact that you are beginning to observe just what is going on in the most important part of your being. After you have noted the minute and second exactly, and have begun concentration on the chosen topic, almost at once thought altogether foreign will seek to crowd ‘to the center of the mind. There is a reason for that, a reason wise and beneficent, but apart from our present purpose of investigation. It is the province of the will to keep ward vigilantly, not ceasing for an instant to drive back such enemies of the task. Maintain steadfastly the selected topic as a central pivot, around which all your mental operations for the time being rotate, with radii of connection to that center. The unrelated ideas must swarm outside the charmed circle. You need feel no discouragement from the fact that you are conscious of their presence beyond the pale. The important thing is that they should not be allowed ever to advance. They must constantly be held rigorously aloof by the will. In that instant when one of these unrelated ideas reaches the center of the mind’s thought it eclipses the chosen topic. The concentration is thus broken. . Look at your watch then. Note the time that has elapsed. It will be a matter of seconds at firstof hours afterward.
” When one becomes able to retain the entire attention on a single theme for the space of one minute., without a moment’s intrusion of an unrelated thought, then there is already developed the power of mind control, which is the first essential of a masterful memory.”
Most folk have enough power to do something worth while if they knew how to gather together all their scattered forces and put the sum total to work in one place. . . . Lackadaisical attention–slipshod thinkingdiffused interestscattering of mental forces, all these get us nowhere. The Jack-of-all-trades is a failure in the twentieth century. The big rewards of this age go to the man who can do one thing supremely well. That-means concentration.
Concentration is veritably a miracle-worker, when applied either to the forces of nature, or the personal powers of man. One clear morning in the early autumn, when the tang of frost was in the air, a group of us were climbing a forest trail, far up on the slope of the mountains, where the magic fingers of the frost had touched the leaves of the trees and transformed them into symphonies of gold and brown. We came out into an open, sunlit space of the forest and with our hands scooped together a great pile of the red and yellow leaves to start a fire and cook our dinner. These leaves were cold and frosty to the touch. The full rays of the October sun fell upon them, but could not warm them. Then we took a sun-glass, caught those rays and focused them on that pile of leaves. Soon under that intense concentration, the leaves began to curl with the heat, to smoulder, then a flicker of flame leaped up, and at last the whole heap burst into fire. Concentration did it.
LESSON PROJECT NUMBER EIGHT
SOMETHING TO Do
1. Choose some quiet place where the environment is right for you, when you will have a full hour for the purpose, free from interruptions, and concentrate on the following problems. Relax for fifteen minutes before you begin and free your mind from all worry and anxiety. Then in the forty-five minutes that remain, choose some hard problem connected with your business which you have been unable to solve, and concentrate on it according to instructions given by Dana in this chapter. Bring all your mental. forces to bear and try to think the thing through and reach a conclusion, if not the final answer. Should you fail the first time, set aside another hour later in the week and repeat the attempt again and again if necessary until you solve your problem.
2.:In the same way concentrate on the following fine article by Thwing on Mental Concentration As An Asset, and see what you can get out of it in an hour.
MENTAL CONCENTRATION AS AN ASSET
“Mental concentration is a uniting, quickening and vitalizing of all the forces of reason devoted to a single end. It is thinking to a point. It is summoning knowledge to aid thinking, demanding thinking to enlarge one’s reasoning, requiring reasoning to arouse feeling and commanding feeling to hold the will resolute. Its foes are diffuseness, discursiveness and indolence. Diffuseness is the playfulness of intellectual youthfulness. Indolence is a mental indifference which may or may not be recreative.
“The supports of mental concentration are enthusiasm, interest, desire for achievement, health, strength of will. Mental concentration needs all natural buttresses. For the mind, at almost every stage, likes to wander. It prefers the picturesque to the logical, the emotional to the rational, the passive to the laborious.
“The will is, however, to haul the mind close and hard down to its thought. The heart is to prompt the mind to rejoice in definiteness or fixedness, even if it be hard for a time. The con-science is to be convinced that only by close devotion can worthy results be secured. Health is to be amply sufficient to fill up all the exhaustions made by long continued intellectual processes.
“In such a concentration the mind finds forces of which it had not been’ conscious. It seems often to create new forces. It raises itself to the nth degree of power. It gets its second wind. Its slow-moving feet become wings.
“It runs with the chariots, not with the foot-men, and it does not become weary. The spirit of the very gods seems to fill its being. Its sight becomes insight. It calls out the intellectual reserves. It discovers the truth of the remark of William James that each of us has resources of which he does not dream.
“Under the force of mental concentration great achievements are consummated. Its lack spells inefficiency and failure. Its possession is victory. Thus James Russell Lowell wrote his poems. Thus Lord Kelvin made his great discoveries and inventions in many diverse fields of human effort. Of Gladstone, Morley’ says ` He was never very ready to talk about himself, but when asked what he regarded as his master secret, he always said, ” Concentration.” ‘
“Slackness of mind, vacuity of mind, the wheels of the mind revolving without biting the rails of the subject were insupportable. Such habits were of the family of faint-heartedness, which he abhorred. Steady practice of instant, fixed effectual attention was the key alike to his rapidity o f apprehension and to his powerful memory.
“Toil was his native element and though he found himself possessed of many inborn gifts, he was never visited with the delusion that he was so brilliant that he need not work.”
3. Concentrate for an hour on the Ninety-first Psalm with the purpose of memorizing it accurately.
” He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore, will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”