I really want to help my community and the world, but it seems so hard. Why do our efforts have so little effect?
The answer is that most of us have minds that are scattered or distracted: sometimes positive, sometimes negative, constantly changing with our shifting moods and desires. Flickering attention is a sure sign of a divided mind. Division is tension. Division is friction. Division is ineffectiveness. Division is futility. And a mind divided cannot stand. Most of us have a mind that is divided; that is why it sometimes cannot stand under the impact of life.
It is the concentrated, focused mind that reaches people. All the great changes in the world for good and for ill have come from the impact of men and women with an overriding singleness of purpose and a concentrated mind. In our own times, on the positive side, Gandhi is a perfect example.
The last hundred years have seen incessant turbulence, change, and danger. Around the world, people are living with a deep anxiety about the future. In such situations it is only natural to ask now and then, “Why was I born into times like these?” the answer I would give is that we have been born to be of help to others. Desperate times are a sign of a more desperate need. To make our full contribution, we need to train the mind to be at peace and then radiate that peace to those around us.
How does this fit with on-pointedness?
It is helpful to keep each of these three aspects in mind – attention, detachment, and the job at hand. But before I comment on them, I want to emphasize that they are really not separate. They are three elements of a single skill.
When you dedicate yourself to the task at hand with complete concentration and without any trace of egotistic involvement, you are learning to live completely in the present. You are making yourself whole, undivided, which is the goal of spiritual life and the meaning of that much misunderstood word yoga.
In reality, all these three amount to unifying our attention. We don’t usually think in these terms, but when we ignore responsibilities, we are actually dividing our attention. When we postpone or neglect a task that needs doing, we are dividing attention. When we do a job halfheartedly, we are dividing attention.
Even when we get personally entangled in our activities, we are dividing our attention. And if “dividing attention” sounds abstract, let me assure you it is utterly practical. When we divide our attention, we split ourselves, which weakens everything we do. In this sense, perhaps the simplest expression of our goal in meditation is that we are trying to make ourselves whole.