Object Focused Meditation

"If you keep focusing, gradually thoughts will become quieter and quieter, gradually the images will disappear from the mind" - Rama

Object focused meditation is a visual meditation involving an external physical item.

Since we are conditioned to be task-oriented since childhood, we have learned to keep the mind from drifting by giving it a task to focus on.

Object focused meditation makes use of this conditioning by getting the mind to focus on the object in front of you.

It tricks the mind into staying in the present moment.

The nature of the specific physical item to use for the meditation is irrelevant. It is a matter of personal preference and anything from a candle flame to a picture of a deity to a flower to a rock could be used.

The external object of attention is useful in as much as it acts as a point of reference to which the mind can easily be tethered. Every time it strays, you simply need to bring it back to the object.

However, the chosen object should meet two conditions -

  1. be small enough so it can be scrutinized without having to move your head, and
  2. be big enough so you don't have to strain your eyes to study its details

There are slightly different ways in which object focused meditation can be done, but it is easier to do it as follows:

  • do breath counting meditation to stabilize the mind as a prelude to moving the attention outward to the external object
  • once the mind is calm and present, open your eyes and study the object
  • observe every detail in a non-discursive way
  • notice how light falls on the object - does it induce any changes in its texture or colour
  • how sharp are the lines of its edges
  • is the object's surface rough or smooth
  • simply observe and refrain from putting labels on what you see

The meditation acts as a direct antidote to the poison of fragmented observation, which afflicts almost every single one of us. It truly is a scourge of the modern age. Constant bombardment of our senses with stimuli overwhelms their ability to pay complete attention to one object or event at a time.

Needless to say, we end up living like zombies, noticing only the superficial characeteristics of things, totally oblivious to their hidden spectacle.

Object focused meditation disrupts this status quo and sharpens our ability to focus. It tames the mind and strengthens the will. It gives us power.

As you progress in your practice, you will find that thoughts disappear and as they bid adieu, you start experiencing profound peace and serenity within.

Even the external object of meditation will transform into an object of ceaseless wonder. You will soon catch yourself deriving intense pleasure from the most mundane of objects.

For these reasons, object focused meditation comes highly recommended for beginners, who may find stilling the mind during meditation difficult.

Does all this talk of meditation in terms of 'task,' 'external object' and 'concentration' make you uncomfortable? Do you feel like we have strayed from the basic premise of meditation?

Well, I would both agree and disagree with that feeling.

It is true that meditation involves no doing. Meditation just is. There can be no striving in meditation. And hence, there should be nothing to focus or concentrate on.

But, bear in mind that this is just a preliminary step in reaching the meditative state of being that obviates the need to focus on an external object. When your mind is already well-settled in the present, it does not require reminders to get back from the past or the future.

The object then becomes irrelevant. In the beginning though, you will need all the help you can get.

It is akin to driving a stick-shift car. When you start learning to drive one, simultaneously managing the clutch, transmission, accelerator and brake in addition to the steering can be nerve-wracking. But, it becomes second nature within days and you learn to coast without sparing a thought for those mechanical demons.

The same holds true for meditation.

If for some reason you find it hard to do (external) object focused meditation, but would still like to do some form of visual meditation, then there is an interesting alternative available.

It is called visualization, a subjective visual meditation, which is a powerful tool to effect personal change.

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