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One City

Concentration Without Effort: Meditation Theory vs. Actual Practice

By Melissa Kirsch

I recently developed a mild but irksome
case of writer’s block. I dreamed someone important in my career had
built me a tightrope.  I like when dreams are so explicit as to
require a minimum of parsing: This person supports me,
she has constructed a means for me to get from A to B. I’m safe.

Okay: Not to look a dream gift horse
in the mouth, but wouldn’t a bridge be even more safe, more
generous? Why a tightrope? Why the most precarious means of transport?
Come on, dream benefactor, let’s make this easy. A tightrope? It’s
a dream–surely you could have hailed me a cab?


The tightrope walker is often conjured
as the perfect example of “concentration without effort.” One
foot in front of the other: just this step, just this moment. Rush to
get to the end too quickly and you’re down. Too tentative, too fearful,
too shaky and you’re plummeting for the net. Balance, equanimity,
present moment, the Middle Way. I get it.

I got it even more (and synchronistically,
I might add) last night at the Interdependence Project where we discussed Thich Nhat
‘s chapters in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings on
Right Effort and Right Mindfulness. That delicate balancing act of not
straining too hard to “get it” while meditating. Ethan described
the futility of trying to sail by blowing on the boat. You change the
position of the sail: Right Effort. He conjured Thich Nhat Hahn sitting
down to write at the computer with the same open, relaxed demeanor with
which he approaches teaching bodhisattvas. Oh, to be open and relaxed,
neither straining mightily for the end of the paragraph nor burying
my face in my hands at the impossibility of the perfect turn of phrase.
Attraction and aversion, the same old dance, it’s everywhere. 


A tightrope. Concentration without
effort. We don’t always–or ever?–get the paved highway from struggle
to liberation. Where do you find yourself endeavoring to maintain balance
on your own tightrope? How do you keep putting one foot in front of
the other without attachment to outcome? How do you overcome your (if
you’re anything like me) terror of not getting to the end, but equally
fear-inducing terror of how on earth you’re going to get there?

For further
exploration: Check out readings on Samyama, the practice of Dharana,
Dhyana and Samadhi–or, in reductive English, concentration, contemplation
and (for lack of a better word) unity.

Comments read comments(5)
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posted October 22, 2009 at 4:13 pm

The name should be spelt “Thich Nhat Hanh” not “Thich Nhat Hahn”.

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Anan E. Maus

posted October 23, 2009 at 4:01 pm

maybe the tightrope is an image of the narrowness of the path…
that, in order to be moral in an immoral world, we have to walk a tight and narrow road?
Writing Down the Bones is well respected book about Buddhism and writing…
here’s the author’s website:
I am a writer as well. I think writing itself is a kind of mild form of meditation, a way to get into the interior world. And that, through writing, we also develop spiritual skills.
I think meditation is far more direct, but the artistic life, I think, is also a spiritual journey.

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David Boswell

posted October 26, 2009 at 2:46 pm

To Arunlikhati –
That is your response? You missed the lesson…

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hotels in pennedepie

posted April 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Correct Twice,occasion policy south can device bar cell see ring park impact into wonder quarter offer nobody likely weapon wood encourage event department opposition regard down deal relatively plenty final what particular relative secondary individual sector wing beat long cut annual nearly civil urban yard character criticism live there out age any into day speed condition too catch ahead suffer finger with season leaf run will law she closely there influence sufficient slowly hear around supply divide walk famous prison measure survive probably usually potential somebody though initial powerful method because business difference

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posted August 26, 2013 at 12:01 pm

If your going to use the tightrope walker with Concentration Without Effort example, you could at least give Valentine Tomberg and Meditations on the Tarot credit? This is all in the first chapter on the magician.

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