Concentration, Contemplation and Meditation,

and other Prerequisites of the beginning of The Path

©2007 Mark B. Anstendig

Three disciplines that must be mastered at the beginning of the Path are concentration, contemplation and meditation. Meditation, which is usually thought of as being the Path itself, is really only a preparation for the Path. Meditation can be pursued to most of its levels using only the beginning of the Path, the passive technique of “the smoothing of the breath”, and it even can be pursued quite far with only the very beginning practice of the watching of the breath, without the passive technique of smoothing the breath. Both techniques of the breath are only the very beginnings of the physical part of the disciplines. Both work solely passively with the breath, without influencing its rhythm or speed. They too, along with concentration, contemplation and meditation, are, in reality, only part of the necessary preparation for the much larger, more extended actively influenced progress of the Path.

Concentration and contemplation must be mastered before one can do anything of the Path.

Concentration is the steady flow in one’s mind of space in time. For example, in the classic exercise of concentration, one concentrates on a burning candle. The candle is a space (it is not time). Therefore,  that is a steady flow in your mind of space in time, when one concentrates on the candle.

Contemplation is defined by Hazrat Inayat Khan as a repetition of space in time. One concentrates on an idea or a concept, or an artistic inspiration or such. Since everything is a form of space, even thoughts and mental images, such things do not have to be a steady flow of something in time, but involve repeating of the thing in various ways, from various points of view, etc.

Meditation is an emptying of one’s mind and waiting for God to put something in it. So one cannot meditate on some thing.

Concentration is a prerequisite for the second two. If one cannot keep one’s mind absolutely steady, with absolutely even concentration, on something for an adequate length of time, neither contemplation nor meditation is possible. And, while contemplation can, in rudimentary ways be achieved without absolutely steady concentration, meditation cannot. And contemplation is more effective if one can concentrate without interruption and with sustained unwavering intensity for long periods of time. The main problem of concentration is keeping one’s mind on that on which one is concentrating. People’s minds tend to wander, be distracted, lose intensity, etc. It is crucial to master the art of keeping one’s mind steadily on one thing or subject without losing intensity or concentration.

Contemplation is what one usually means when one says one will meditate on something. One really contemplates something. One cannot meditate on something, because, by definition, meditation is the emptying of one’s mind of everything. One contemplates things one knows or has experienced. But one cannot meditate on them. During meditation, one sees, hears and feels. But one reduces such stimuli to their minimum and does nothing more than allow them to be there, if one cannot avoid them, without any mental activity whatsoever directed at them. It is very important right from the outset to understand and keep concentration, contemplation and meditation well sorted out in one’s mind.

The Path begins with the passive disciplines of the smoothing of the breath and other requisite disciplines like posture, attitudes of hearing, and learning of requisite concepts.  The active Path starts with the “Mill Wheel”, which is the fanciful name given to the discipline to which one is introduced when the breath stops of its own accord during meditation and the smoothing of the breath. That discipline, the “Mill Wheel”, is the technique with which, for the first time ever, the candidate actively affects the breath.  This point in one’s progress, at which one first takes an active role in the physical functioning of the body, especially the breathing mechanism, is essentially the real beginning of the Path, itself. All that came before it, including meditation, is really a preparation for the Path, i.e., a period during which the basic capabilities necessary to get through the Path are mastered.

The beginning of the active Path should never be started or in any way attempted before one has mastered all the steps leading up to it, including the art of meditation. In order to be able to carry out the techniques/disciplines of the Path proper, certain habits have to have been made and certain abilities have to have been mastered. That is because the rest of the stages of the Path cannot be done without them. Chief among those habits and abilities are:

the habit of being aware of the breath at all possible times;

the ability to relax the external musculature of the body, especially that of the eyes, so that the eyes can look straight ahead, without the tensions caused by the muscles around the eyes pulling the  eyes towards each other, so that one can see single;

the ability to be consciously aware of more than one thing at a time (one’s breath and what one is doing; or music, one’s breath and what one is doing, etc.);

the ability to sustain a meditation well enough and long enough for the confirmatory signs of God to be shown/appear, because those signs are God’s way of leading one through the Path;

the ability to read those signs as Yin and Yang, i.e., positive and negative, confirming and non-confirming;

and the ability to observe oneself well enough to be able to recognize the tangle of interconnected reactions between the body, mind, and external stimuli, which the Path will untangle, i.e., liberate, and reorder into a more rational and efficient order.

With the technique called the “Mill Wheel”, the main body of The Path of Liberation begins, which, as will often be mentioned in these texts, is so-named because it entails the liberation of various muscle complexes of the body from unnecessary interactions with each other and with the mind, including many involuntary actions of the body. At that stage, while meditation remains a prime way of getting into a fine state and of doing many of the disciplines, it becomes, over time, only one of many possibilities. And the consciousness, awareness, state of seeing and hearing, etc., achieved in meditation are eventually permanently acquired, little by little, so that they are always present, no matter what one is doing, i.e., they are translated into action, i.e., they are sustained all the time, whether or not one is still. That is a late stage of the Path.

This liberation of the various reactive complexes of the body from their own components as well as from other parts of the body, and from the mind, is a systematic process, accomplished by doing certain disciplines in relation to whatever circumstances God throws at one. Those circumstances of life that God creates are, for the "pure" candidate, exactly the right circumstances for that candidate’s progress (whether the circumstances are pleasant or unpleasant--and they usually are a mix of ups and downs, since one’s actions and reactions in relation to both negative and positive stimuli have to be mastered). In the impure candidate, the circumstances cannot be ideal for this liberation, because the physical patterns of negativity in the interaction of mind and body of such a person preclude it until the person is rid of them. That is one of the protections God wrote/built into the Path.

An open, honest, correct interaction with the holy person designated as one's guide is the first requisite for a happy outcome of efforts on the Path. Any hesitation, doubt, etc., directed at such a person not only short-circuits that person’s “antenna” for insights into the necessary steps for the candidate’s Path, it is doubt in God, himself, because that guide is not the main one doing the Path for the candidate. The candidate is doing the Path with God. The guide is merely necessary as an antenna for the appropriate directions at the right time; as a control that one is doing the disciplines correctly; as a conduit, through whom the candidate can, under excellent circumstances, experience higher things; and as an example, an embodiment of where the Path is leading. Any "attitude" towards the guide short-circuits the messages.  And lack of adequate access to the candidate, on the part of the guide, ruins the timeliness of his insights. But once the instructions are given, it is the candidate, working with God through the signs of God and the circumstances created for him/her by God, who carries them out...or not. And, as in regular life, where a satisfactory relationship with God only comes with a satisfactory leading of one’s life, a satisfactory relationship with God for the candidate only comes with a satisfactory carrying out of the Path. It is up to the candidate to master his attitude towards God and towards the guide, as well as his attitude towards the world itself, or God will not supply the circumstances and insights necessary for the candidate to do the Path and fulfill him/herself.

The Path is the changing of the individual, the making and breaking of habits, and essentially the ridding oneself of less than positive, non-furthering habits and mannerisms. Since the candidate is not aware of many of these negativities in him/herself, it is up to the guide to point them out, which has the potential of causing much resistance and even resentment. But it is imperative to have a positive attitude towards the guide and to be able to be together with the guide in a relaxed, trusting way, because, at important moments in the Path, the actual physical and mental presence of the guide is necessary for certain subtle, but key liberations to occur. How the guide is personally, aside from the necessity of being accurate about the instructions of the Path, is the guide's own business, not the candidate's. Traditionally, guides often act in off-putting ways.1) Until the candidate has attained, he/she cannot have an overview of the guide and cannot even know or comprehend the guide. In attaining, things about the guide eventually become clear. But real insight comes at the higher stages of the Path, when one begins working on the things the guide embodies and begins to grasp what those things demand of a person. It is the same for an overview and insight into God and the Path itself. The accomplishment comes first. For example, when a candidate is in limbo due to any wrong action, the situation can only be corrected through carrying out the Path according to instructions with trust and a lack of doubt. That trust and surety must come first, or the benefits will not happen. That is how it is. There is nothing anyone can do about that. It is the way God HAD to create it. It is the same in mundane life: God had to create the world and everyday life the way it is for his purposes. And those living life cannot readily see into those purposes and why the world has to be the way it is without completing a substantial amount of the Path.


1) See Hazrat Inayat Khan’s “Sufi Message”, volume 10, the chapter about finding as guide for examples.


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