On a Monday, during a lecture at a college in Wyoming, Arizona, a physics professor, with a hundred students before him, suddenly burst out, "I have only one student present in this lecture of mine!" The abrupt diversion and harsh emphasis arrested the fullest attention of all the students.
"Why Sir, we are a hundred!" exclaimed an intrepid backbencher.
The professor explained, "Out of the entire class only Peter has been paying attention to what I've been saying. The rest of you have been mentally wandering in and out of this lecture hall."
We are all given to walking out (mentally) during conversation and satsang assemblies. Probably, in the last fifteen minutes you've stretched to places far and wide and to things way out of your reach. Collaring your mind in faithfully doing one thing at a time is tough. Real tough! For students, mental wandering drains concentration and dilutes academic performances.
Joe Hyams was learning Hapkido from Master Han. Once, he sandwiched his practice session between business appointments. His performance at the dojo (practice hall) that day was absolutely poor. In spite of him knowing the Hapkido motions he performed poorly. Simply because he kept on glancing at the clock after each motion.
"Your mind is elsewhere," said Master Han.
Joe admitted that he was thinking about his next appointment. The master bowed to Joe, signalling the lesson had ended. On his way out Joe found Han waiting at the doorway.
"You must learn to live in the present," preached Han. "Not in the future or the past. Zen teaches that life must be seized at the moment. By living in the present you are fully aware of yourself and your environment, your energy is not dissipated and is always available. By thinking about things other than what you are engaged in dilutes your present."
The majority of us fall in the same bracket — split between the things we've done and the things we are going to do. We leave the present unattended, hence problems and miseries grow and life eventually breaks down.
Yogiji Maharaj narrated a telling anecdote of 'Shekh Challi'. The story says a rich man promised Shekh Challi (a poor man) some money if he would carry a pot of ghee for him. Shekh Challi agreed. He placed the pot on his head and followed his master. On the way, Shekh Challi pondered as to what he would do with his wages "I shall buy a goat with the money. Then, I'll start a small milk business. And with the profits I'll purchase a cow. With the money I make from its milk, I'll buy more cows. In no time I'll have a booming dairy business. Then, I'll have enough money to afford a nice home, get married and have kids. And when I will be relaxing at home my son will come to call me for dinner. But I shall refuse."
At this point Shekh Challi moved his head in refusal. The pot of ghee fell to the ground and broke spilling all the ghee on the ground. The master fumed with anger, "You've spilt my ghee you simpleton!"
"But... you've only lost a pot of ghee and… I've lost a home, a wife and kids," replied Shekh Challi.
We all pay the penalty, like Shekh Challi, of leaping into the future at the cost of the present. The habit of being fully conscious of the present adds tremendously to the efficiency and quality of the work assigned to you. But as soon as you temporarily divorce yourself from your present action you get tangled in a web of thoughts.
Anchor yourself firmly to what you do. Concentration is a principal factor in boosting efficiency and quality of work. The tightrope walker performs his act with single-minded concentration. He never allows his mind to be swayed by the cheering crowds or with thoughts of his wife and kids.
Jack Dempsey was an aggressive and determined American boxer. He said, "I have had my lips smashed, my eyes cut, my ribs cracked but I never felt any of these blows. I kept on saying, "Nobody is going to stop me, nobody can really hurt me..." In his most challenging fight he knocked his opponent flat in four minutes and earned $.100,000. When he fought he said he never heard the roars of the crowd.
Immunizing yourself from deflections and concentrating entirely on the present is what goes to making a champion.
The epic Mahabharat describes, in one of its chapters the 'Swayamvar' (competition for the hand) of Draupadi - the daughter of King Drupad. Kings and princes from all lands travelled to Kampilyanagar, the capital of King Drupad's kingdom. The challenge for the hand of Draupadi required the contestants to stand on a pair of scales, one foot on each pan and pierce the eye of a fish, revolving on a pole, from its reflection in the pool of water below. Many kings and princes failed the balancing act on the scales and fell in the pool of water. And those who succeeded in standing still failed to hit the target. Arjun, however, stepped confidently on the scales and with singular concentration, pierced the eye of the fish. Arjun won the hand of Draupadi.
To those aspiring for success and efficiency the lesson of Arjun's concentration is of immense inspiration. While he mentally blanked out the entire courtyard and all stray thoughts the kings were probably split by pride or passion for Draupadi, or by thoughts of riches and fame. A man can never think sober when intoxicated with pride, passions, thoughts of fame and riches, hastiness, etc.
Our daily performances in the academic sphere, business or 'Satsang' world are foiled by such elements. The less we have of these the less our mind strays from the object of action. The process of eradicating these hurdles altogether requires spiritual efforts - prayers, disciplining of body and 'Sant Samagam'. Temporarily, however, the prescription of arousing an interest in what you do will help you numb distractions. Once you make whatever you do into an interest you'll find that intelligence, effort, disciplining of body and mind come easy to you. The frequency of slipping in and out will decrease. This will help you in seizing the moment.