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Samyama: the Three Foci in the Practice of Meditation

 

by George A. Boyd ©1990

Samyama refers to the flowing of attention, awareness and energy in meditation that occurs so spontaneously and effortlessly as to be said to be nearly simultaneous. Meditators are not born with the ability to perform samyama (unless they had fortunate past lives), but must coax it gradually like knots out of tangled hair.

In classical Raja Yoga, the process of samyama consists of three parts: fixation of attention or concentration on an object of meditation (dharana); witnessing of contents of consciousness or contemplation (dhyana); and absorption into the object of meditation (samadhi). Through progressive training, meditators learn to master these first two steps of this triad. Eventually, with persistence, they break through into the experience of samadhi, which brings ecstatic union with the object of meditation. After more practice, these three processes are seen to flow together as one in samyama.

Looking at this classical formulation in a slightly different way, we may observe that various meditation systems have elaborated upon this basic formulation by placing their emphasis on different stages of this process. In attentional focus meditation, the experience of consciousness in the here and now, the fiery point of concentration, is central. In a content focus meditation, the material that arises as a result of contemplation of the subconscious and Superconscious mind is primary. In an energy focus, directing or becoming passively absorbed in the life force (prana or chi) is emphasized. Examples of each of these foci are described below:

  • Attentional Focus – Raja Yoga, Vipassana, and Zen

  • Content Focus – Process meditation, mantra meditation, reflective meditation, receptive meditation, auto-suggestion, and hetero-suggestion ("guided" meditations and hypnosis by others)

  • Energy Focus – Movement meditation, Hatha Yoga, martial arts, Kundalini meditation, Kriya Yoga, Pranayama, Laya (absorption) Yoga

Each of the methods listed above can alter awareness from the normal waking state, from a very slight alteration to profound depths of absorption in the continuum of consciousness. They also vary in the content they evoke, and the amount of arousal of energy they produce.

Samyama can be achieved by a variety of avenues. Sufficient duration of concentration with regulated breathing can arouse the energy of awareness, the Kundalini, bringing about rapid absorption into the higher octaves of Being. Alternately, energy methods can create spontaneous absorption of concentration, bringing awareness of variegated content of the strata of the mind. Contemplation can lead to breakthrough and insight, can completely absorb the attention, and lead to spontaneous heightened energy states. The three forces of dharana, dhyana and samadhi are inseparable in the mind; each influences and is influenced by the others.

In normal consciousness, the attention remains on the objects of the senses and the stream of thoughts and feelings that arise in the Conscious mind. In meditation this focus is gently shifted to encompass grander spheres of awareness, awakening energy and awareness through the subtle vehicles of consciousness and the inner energy centers (chakras). This shift of conscious attention has several affects on the body and the mind:

  • It induces a relaxation response, lowering stress.

  • It promotes creative and intuitive styles of thinking.

  • It allows the mind to process through the unfinished business of the day and unresolved emotional issues.

  • It provides an opportunity to solve problems and receive guidance from a higher, detached viewpoint within (Atma, or Transpersonal Self).
  • It awakens the higher emotionality of the spiritual heart, and allows innate altruism, idealism, and higher values to express as compassionate and loving service.

  • It enables the entire consciousness to progressively integrate itself around a new center, bringing about the development of new abilities, the accretion of wisdom through new knowledge and insights, and promotes a greater participation in the integrative ground of Being.

Some researchers believe that the quest for alteration of consciousness may be an innate drive. Others hold it is a learned social phenomenon. Regardless of whether the urge to travel in dimension arises from within or without, the meditative state provides an opportunity to access the latent potentials lying dormant beneath the surface conscient in which we spend the majority of our waking hours.

A thorough understanding of the process of samyama will give you a key to the mastery of the three foci of meditation. Knowing how to shift at will from attentional focus, to content focus, to energy focus will make any meditation you do simpler and easier, and help you access your inner treasures of the Soul.

 

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