I so often hold something in my mind and remain unwaveringly conscious of it: my crammed schedule for the upcoming day, hangry hunger, frustration with the driver who cut me off 2 miles ago. It weaves itself into my mind and my breath, boosting itself up as if to say, "Yes! Look at me! KEEP looking at me! What do you think about me?". These one-pointed obsessions leave no space for Love, Truth, or even a simple breath. I'm completely wrapped up and thrown around by the thing itself rather than being present to witness the thing.
The practice of dharana as the sixth step of Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga requires us to draw our attention to a single object without interruption, even when that object is no longer there. Imagine watching the flame of a candle and becoming aware of the flame so deeply that when you close your eyes you can still "see" it dancing in front of your eyes. Often this "object" on concentration is isvara, which can be very loosely translated to "God", but really meaning something higher than ourselves. For me, isvara is Oneness, the great connection between and within all things. I look at the candle's flame and see God (when I'm not focusing on my chapped lips, that is!).
So what's the work for me here then? To find isvara in my chapped lips? Well, maybe I can actually use my chapped lips as a single point of focus, but I need to drop all the judgments I've surrounded it with. The difference between obsessing and dharana involves presence. My teacher Daniel Sitaram Das Shankin once led a meditation wherein we actually sat with the pain our bodies felt from sitting in meditation. The goal was not to forget the pain or make it go away, but rather to just sit and be present with it without judgment. Draw the senses inward to that object and quiet the mind. My back pain became my vehicle towards dharana.
After all that, my cracked lips still hurt, but maybe I can just let that be...
Focus vs Obsession
Presence vs Judgment
Acceptance vs Control