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Focused and Fearless

Written by: Shaila Catherine
Published: April 28, 2008


"Focused and Fearless" by Shaila Catherine introduces readers to the practice of developing deep concentration, which can lead to states of meditative absorption known as jhanas. These states are not merely peaceful experiences but are powerful stages of insight that can illuminate the nature of reality and lead to transformative wisdom.

Catherine begins by explaining the importance of concentration in the broad context of meditation practice. While many meditation practices focus on mindfulness and awareness, concentration is the factor that stabilizes the mind and allows for deeper absorption. The author provides clear, step-by-step instructions on how to cultivate this skill, starting with the preparation of the mind and body for meditation, and moving on to the development of focus.

The book emphasizes the joy and happiness that arise from concentration practice, countering the common misconception that meditation requires enduring hardship. Catherine encourages practitioners to enjoy their meditation and find delight in the deepening stages of concentration. She presents this as a natural process that unfolds as the mind becomes more settled and less distracted by external stimuli.

As the text progresses, Catherine delves into the traditional Buddhist teachings on jhanas, describing the qualities and characteristics of each state. She offers guidance on how to recognize and enter these states, as well as how to emerge from them with greater insight into the workings of the mind and the impermanent nature of all phenomena.

Importantly, "Focused and Fearless" addresses the obstacles that can arise in concentration practice. The author discusses common hindrances like restlessness, doubt, and sensory desire, providing strategies to overcome them. Catherine also talks about the fear and resistance that can emerge as one approaches deeper levels of concentration and how to navigate these mental barriers.

The latter chapters of the book are dedicated to the practical integration of concentration practice into daily life. Catherine stresses that the benefits of deep concentration are not confined to formal meditation sessions but can enhance every aspect of one’s life. She advocates for a balanced approach that includes both concentration and mindfulness practices, leading to a harmonious development of the mind.

Final Thoughts

Shaila Catherine's "Focused and Fearless" offers a comprehensive guide to developing concentration in meditation, providing readers with the tools to achieve states of deep meditative absorption. The book is a valuable resource for both novice and experienced meditators seeking to deepen their practice and experience the profound peace and understanding that come with sustained focus.

10 Big Ideas

1. Cultivate Steadiness of Mind

Developing a stable mind is foundational for deep concentration. Consistent practice is key to this process.

2. Recognize the Joy in Concentration

Concentration practice is not solely about discipline; it’s also about discovering the inherent joy and ease in meditative absorption.

3. Navigate the Jhanas

Understanding the jhanas—stages of deep concentration—is crucial for advancing meditation practice and reaching states of profound peace.

4. Balance Effort and Relaxation

A balanced approach that couples effort with relaxation and enjoyment is essential for successful concentration practice.

5. Embrace Happiness in Meditation

Meditative happiness is a sign of progress in concentration practice, leading to a more fulfilling and profound meditative experience.

6. Overcome Hindrances

Identifying and overcoming the five hindrances—sensory desire, ill-will, sloth-torpor, restlessness-worry, and doubt—is vital for deepening concentration.

7. Let Go of Fear

Releasing fear and resistance that may arise with deepening concentration allows for progress in practice and leads to liberating insights.

8. Practice Mindfully

Integrating mindfulness with concentration practice enriches both practices and leads to a more balanced and insightful meditation experience.

9. Apply Concentration to Daily Life

Concentration skills developed in meditation can be applied to everyday activities, leading to greater efficiency, enjoyment, and presence.

10. Insight Through Absorption

Deep concentration opens the door to powerful insights, illuminating the impermanent and interconnected nature of all phenomena.

5 Exercises

1: Stabilizing the Mind

Objective: To develop a stable and focused mind through seated meditation.

  • Begin with a 10-minute seated meditation, focusing solely on the breath.
  • Each time you notice your mind wandering, gently return your focus to the breath without judgment.
  • Gradually increase the time of your meditation sessions as your concentration improves.
2: Joyful Meditation

Objective: To recognize and cultivate the intrinsic joy within meditation practice.

  • During meditation, consciously acknowledge moments of peace and happiness as they arise.
  • After your session, reflect on these moments of joy, reinforcing the positive experience of meditation.
3: Deepening Concentration with Jhanas

Objective: To familiarize yourself with the stages of jhanas and their characteristics.

  • After establishing a steady breath focus, observe the arising of piti (rapture) and sukha (happiness) that signal the entry into the first jhana.
  • Practice sustaining and deepening these positive states in your meditation, moving through the jhanas as you become more adept.
4: Overcoming Hindrances

Objective: To identify and work through the common hindrances in meditation.

  • Keep a meditation journal to note any recurring hindrances such as restlessness, desire, or doubt.
  • Apply antidotes as suggested by Catherine, such as contemplating impermanence for desire or cultivating loving-kindness for ill-will.
5: Integrating Concentration into Activities

Objective: To apply concentration skills to daily tasks, enhancing presence and effectiveness.

  • Choose a routine task and decide to perform it with full concentration, observing all aspects of the activity with mindfulness.
  • Note the quality of your attention and any improvements in the performance of the task.

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