Common steps and sub-activities

Path of Concentration

There are very few techniques that are based on true contemplation.  Perhaps more pertinent is that those techniques, when they are described, contain little that would help the person wanting to actually contemplate.  Thus we  have the Christian mystical path of contemplation,  but we have precious little in the way of description of what they did to get there – the 'how' of the technique.  We also have the Hindu path of Samadhi and yet again, lots of evidence it works,  but little in the way of 'how' once you are in this state and thus not much practical help in how you do it.  We have the Sufi approach, and we have the Zen Buddhist technique of 'detachment' which again is very short of practical pointers.

But this description comes from the book by Paul Brunton called 'A Quest for the Overself' published in 1937 and it is clear he did know what to do.

The Method

Timing - Paul advocated daily exercises with only about half an hour for the exercises.  This he felt was practical and attainable for most people.  The best time is either dawn or dusk – sunset.  If the time is available both periods could be used for exercises, though he says that from his point of view the one period worked fine for him.  The best time is probably dawn, as then the stomach is empty. 

Fasting - The exercises need to be done on an empty stomach [no distractions] and as such the morning is often an ideal time.

Position and posture - You should choose a very comfortable seat or bed but sit upright with your back propped up for support.  An upright posture makes sure you can breathe properly and also helps in making sure you don't fall asleep.  He does not advocate the yoga 'cross legged' pose, deeming it unnecessary.  You are trying to minimise all bodily sensations, so comfort is key.

Environment - The environment must be peaceful quiet and give you a sense of peace. 

The Quest of the Overself – Paul Brunton

Even after having established oneself in a comfortable position it is well to remember that the senses of the body will still be active, carrying on their normal work of transmitting sense impressions to the brain.  If one is to penetrate into the mind's depths, these physical senses must be compelled to keep silent.  One should therefore practise as far as possible in a place of complete solitude and perfect quietude and, if a room is used, this should be locked to prevent sudden intrusion.

Relaxation – the next stage is to use relaxation techniques.  Any one of the  techniques on this website would work – it is up to you which one you find most effective, Paul does not specifically advocate one technique only that you have to relax completely letting go of physical tensions.

The Quest of the Overself – Paul Brunton

In the earlier stages of the practises one would be well advised to break off meditation at odd times and become closely aware of the state of one's body.  Is it strained?  Are the muscles taut? And the nerves tense?  One should correct oneself constantly in this manner and thus form proper habits of posture.

The technique itself - What marks out Paul's description is his clear explanation of what it means at least to think outside our perceptions.  In other words not just forget memories, threats, obligations, opportunities, objectives and so on, but also to cut out perceptions as well.

One of the key phrases that may be of use in understanding the state to be reached is that of 'live in the present'.  The future must not be anticipated and the past must be immediately forgotten.

The Quest of the Overself – Paul Brunton

On a day to day basis, it means a perpetual underlying steadiness at the centre of one's conscious being which neither past memories nor present deeds of evanescent existence can shake -  a steadiness which may indulge in retrospect or in anticipation without becoming the victim of either.

But more important often such a one will cease to think of events as soon as they have passed; their mental impressions will flow off him like water off a duck's back.

For it is better to be indifferent to the future if the reward is eternal life;

it is more profitable to forget the past if the same reward will follow

Thus one may continue uninfluenced by self reproach and unexcited by speculative hopes


So we ignore past and present, but as we are generating nothing by our actions, our perception system is in effect 'blank'.

The Quest of the Overself – Paul Brunton

We have also here arrived at presupposing an absolute present, although we are unable to conceive it.  A way will now be shown whereby investigation may be raised to an astonishing height.  The idea of time is inseparably connected with the idea of motion.  It is a sensation of succession.  Thus there is a movement of concepts and percepts within the mind, one succeeding the other like the snapshots on a reel of cinema film – a process  that continues the day long.  There is also a movement of the physical body from hour to hour at the very least, if not from minute to minute.

It is this inherence in a succession of mental impressions and physical sensations and events as they pass through consciousness which creates one's sense of time and one's personal memories, because there is no movement without time.  It is this eternal sinking of attention in thoughts other than the I-thought that prevents one coming face to face, as it were, with one's real self.

So long as one is unable to free attention from these thoughts and memories, so long will one be held captive, by the sense of passage of time

Some more thoughts on this idea of only the present moment and stillness of mind and body.............

The Quest of the Overself – Paul Brunton

One must seek to cultivate the state of stillness, mental and physical....

Consciousness as mentalised movement = time.

Consciousness abiding in itself in a repose as deep as that of a deep sea free from waves = eternity.

If one stops the wheeling revolutions of intellect and reduces all thoughts to the primal one – the 'I' thought [the higher spirit] and then melts into this mental stillness, one is immediately liberated from temporary captivity.

An aroma of immortality clings around one's whole being.

If one turns the intellect's search and observation inwards upon itself and traces it to its own point of origin, …. one lapses into the resultant stillness.

The Quest of the Overself – Paul Brunton

When, after long practise through several years and the exertion of much will power, the host of mental impressions ceases to whirl through the brain and the goal of one pointed mind is attained, a further step appears in view............

This stage is called contemplation and requires the practiser to drop the object or idea or mental image from his attention at the very height of the exercise, without, however, dropping the mood of fixed, unwavering attention which has been engendered.

If this be properly done – and it is no easy matter – the stilled mind remains in a state of vacuum for the briefest of periods.  There may be a temporary lapse of memory, a swift swoon of self oblivion and then the centre of the being is found to have shifted itself deeper, into another plane entirely different from the normal one.

In this plane the mind merges into a state of dazzling peace, illumination, understanding, freedom and desirelessness.

This wonderful condition does not long remain, however, but passes away almost as imperceptibly and as silently as it came.  The contemplator's final task is to repeat the experience of attainment as often as he can and to prolong these high moods for as long as he can, until ultimately they stretch out over the entire day, unbroken and unbreakable.

At the plane just below that of final attainment, all the different paths of meditation and contemplation merge and unite.  The closer they approach to that plane, the more they tend to become alike.  It is likewise true that certain conditions of practise apply, at some stage or other to all the paths.

How long should one perform these exercises?

The Quest of the Overself – Paul Brunton

The question as to how long this course of meditation should be continued must be answered by each for himself.

It is necessary just so long as one feels that it is required

It is necessary until the fullest intellectual conviction of the truths has been obtained

It is necessary until one finds it so easy, spontaneous, welcome and pleasant that one longs for its daily half hour and hurries forward to its daily practise.

It is necessary until one can drop all the trains of discursive thought and feel an increasing luminousness in the brain, so that all true ideas stand out as startlingly clear sure images or inspired certitudes in this brilliant light.

The practise must be prolonged until one can win through the constant clamour of outside impressions, physical sensations and restless thoughts to an inner vigilance which is sharply intense yet seemingly effortless

The state it induces is to be picked up again and again until it becomes habitual, then only may it be dropped.

The Quest of the Overself – Paul Brunton

The mind will complain bitterly about being turned away from its wonted tracks, about the tyranny of being externalised throughout the day. 

The restlessness of the mind is the general discovery of all people who take up the practise of meditation.  This discovery is confirmed by every early effort and leads at first to  disheartenment.  The first fumbling efforts leave a sense of failure and fatigue.  One understands then that only a small fraction of one's thoughts is one's own, the rest are an undisciplined rebellious mob. 

If one yields to these negative feelings, one is headed for failure.  If however, one accepts the fact that the task undertaken is a serious and difficult one, yet still perfectly possible and worth while, there will one day be a reward, when a delightful lull in the tumult of the mind will arise and its outward turned bent will be broken through.

Patience plus indifference to repeated failure is essential to obtain final success.

The Quest of the Overself – Paul Brunton

If in these devotional contemplations and religious yearnings, tears begin to fill one's eyes, they must not be denied expression.  They should be accepted as part of the inevitable price that is demanded.  They will help dissolve the invisible barriers between one and the Divine ideal.  Those who weep in their spiritual exile do not weep in vain.