Concentration is such an important part of both Druid and Zen practice. Some people have the natural ability to concentrate for long periods of time, others are always being distracted by any number of stimuli, from their own thoughts to external sounds and sights. In order to get anything done simply, efficiently and will full awareness, we need to develop our concentration. Meditation goes a long way in helping us to begin the process of learning to concentrate.
There are few times in our easy lives today where if we don’t concentrate, Very Bad Things will happen. Even times such as driving a car can be done without full concentration – though that is also the cause of most accidents. How many situations can you think of in your life where, if you don’t concentrate, you will die?
In the natural world, concentration is what keeps most things alive. The fox, intent on the pheasant, excludes all other distractions to hunt the bird down and fill his belly. He might otherwise starve if he does not have this level of concentration. The hawk, looking for the starling, the cat and mouse, the deer who is always alert to her environment for her own safety and protection – all of these creatures live with heightened levels of concentration and awareness. As a Druid, I look to nature for inspiration and examples on how I too can live my life in full awareness.
A lot of people don’t think that you require high levels of concentration for the smaller tasks. Washing dishes is a great example. It’s something that most of us have had to do at some point in our lives, and it is a chore. Looking up the word chore, I came across two definitions; 1 – a small routine task, especially a domestic one, and 2 – an unpleasant task. How different are those two definitions?
The first simply states what a chore is. The second makes a judgement call on it. In order to concentrate, we have to leave judgement calls out of our tasks, otherwise we risk becoming embroiled in our thoughts, getting them all tangled up again and losing our focus on the task at hand. While I went to the office kitchen to wash my mug today, I found I couldn’t wash my mug, as the sink was full of other people’s mugs. We have, like many other offices around the world, signs everywhere asking people to wash up after themselves, with varying degrees of humour. My first reaction was annoyance that other people were such pigs – then I caught myself. I was making a judgement call. What would happen if I simply got on and washed up all the mugs, along with my own? What if I adopted the principles of Zen and non-attachment?
The answer was a very pleasant experience. Taking all the mugs out and refilling the tub with warm, soapy water, I honed my concentration in and picked up a mug, putting it into the water and washing it thoroughly. I paid special attention to the task, and it was so much more enjoyable. The feeling of the warm water on my hands was lovely – it was like having a mini-bath for my hands to relax in in the middle of the day. I then caught myself again, as I found I was attaching to how lovely the experience was. I should simply experience it and not make judgement calls, otherwise I could get lost in my thoughts and lose concentration.
So I kept at it. I still enjoyed the warm water and the time away from my desk, and the end result was a clean kitchen with my own mug nice and washed up as well. It was a much better experience than the usual “Sigh. Looks like I’ve got to do this. Again.” With each mug, there was no thought on how awful other people are, leaving their dirty work for others. Lipstick on one mug – no thought or judgement on that, simply something to wash. When I did find myself wandering in my thoughts, I brought myself back, and noticed that the bowl I had just “cleaned” was, in fact, still dirty. Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate.
When we let go of the concept of “menial” tasks, everything becomes special and worthy of concentration. Taking it even further, listening to your child, driving your car, writing your book, making love, stroking the cat – all of these gain more significance because you have devoted your concentration to them, and by doing so, establishing a better relationship with the world around you.
Druidry is all about relationship. It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who isn’t paying attention to you, who is ignoring you or thinking about other things when you are engaging with them. So we should try and devote our levels of concentration to every task that we can think of, in order to make all relationships special. Our lives will become more fulfilled, and dare I say it – even rewarding (though rewards are NOT the goals in life, living is the goal to life).
Taking concentration to even the “smallest” of tasks means that we will be better equipped when we attempt the “larger” ones, such as Druid ritual. However we may celebrate, the main point behind Druid ritual is intention. If we lose concentration, our intention can easily become lost, or twisted, our relationship faltering. Intention is described as “an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result” (from an online dictionary). Our mental faculties must be honed in order for the action or result to be successful, or meaningful in some way. We can determine mentally upon some action, but unless we apply concentration, that result may not be what we would wish for.
With ritual, whether we are celebrating the seasons, or healing a friend, honouring an accomplishment or singing back to the land, it is our intention combined with our concentration that makes what we are doing both special, and not so special. This may sound like a contradiction – well, it is and it isn’t!
If we apply high levels of concentration to everything we do, we make everything “special” in some way. If we carry this all the way to Druid ritual, we find that ritual is both something special and nothing special at all – it is a time that we set aside for a certain purpose, devoting ourselves to the moment, which can seem special, yet by carrying our intention through all that we do in our lives, ritual becomes a part of our lives that is as important as, say, washing the dishes. The mundane becomes sacred, and we see the awen in everything.