The Pink Elephant and the Power of FOCUS

What a photographer who wishes to shoot a picture usually does include aiming the camera at the subject, turning the dial to adjust the focus, confirming if the light available is sufficient for the exposure, holding the camera steady, and finally shooting. A gunman or an archer also does something similar to what the photographer does except that when he shoots, a projectile is fired out of his weapon unlike what happens in a camera.

The Mahabharata, of which the chapters 23-42 of the Bhishma Parva form the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, is a metaphor for a spiritual battle against one’s own ego. It can be called an externalisation, in the form of a battle, of perennial inner conflicts. The analogy of war between an army of good people on one side and evil ones on the other calls for the usage of terms such as ‘shooting; ‘fighting’ and ‘vanquishing enemies’. Such analogy and the story as a whole greatly help seekers in being able to relate themselves better with the different characters and situations in the story.

The way perception works is that it primarily collects through the sense organs all kinds of data in the form of sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch. This data is processed by the mind employing the physical organ called the brain. The mind, which, the Atman carries along with it from Janma to Janma, as explained in Shloka 15:08 of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, is influenced by the Gunas, attitude, or nature of an individual that it belongs to. The three Gunas, namely the Sattva, Rajo and Tamo Gunas and their varying proportions or strengths, determine the actions performed by a person. A person with a high level of Sattva Guna, for example, would be greatly moved by the sufferings of downtrodden people or of innocent voiceless animals whereas one with a high level of Tamo Guna might not think twice before hurting someone or causing severe damage to life and property. A person with high levels of the Rajo Guna could be immensely ambitious and would not hesitate to go to any extent in order to achieve their goals.

Karmayoga, as taught by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita can be defined as performing one’s ordained or prescribed duty to the best of their ability without being attached to its result but with perfection and social responsibility as guiding factors.
सक्ताः कर्मण्यविद्वांसो यथा कुर्वन्ति भारत | कुर्याद्विद्वांस्तथाऽसक्तश्चिकीर्षुर्लोकसंग्रहम् || ३ २५ ||
saktaaha karmanya vidhvaamso yathaa kurvanti bhaaratha

kuryaad vidvaam stathaa sakthash- chikiirshur loka sangraham (SBG 3:25)

Just as ignorant people perform actions with attachment to the results, learned people perform work, but with no attachments. Their desire, if at all, is only the welfare of the world.

Prescribed or ordained action is known as Karma and performing one’s Karma without any attachment to its results but as a sacrifice unto the Supreme Being is called Yagnya.
नियतं कुरु कर्म त्वं कर्म ज्यायो ह्यकर्मणः | शरीरयात्रापि च ते न प्रसिद्ध्येदकर्मणः || ३ ८ ||
niyatham kuru karma thvam karma jyaayo hya karmanaha
shariira yaathraapi cha the na prasiddhye dakarmanaha (SBG 3:08)
Do the duties prescribed for you because action is better than inaction. Even the maintenance of the body cannot be done without doing work.

तस्मादसक्तः सततं कार्यं कर्म समाचर | असक्तो ह्याचरन्कर्म परमाप्नोति पूरुषः || ३ १९ ||
tasmaada saktaha satatam kaaryam karma samaachara
asakto hyaacharan karma paramaapnoti puurushaha (SBG 3:19)

Therefore after giving up attachment, always perform your work as your duty. The one performing duty without attachment to the fruit of the work will certainly attain the Supreme goal.

3:20 कर्मणैव हि संसिद्धिमास्थिता जनकादयः | लोकसंग्रहमेवापि संपश्यन्कर्तुमर्हसि || ३ २० ||
karmanaiva hi samsiddhim – aasthithaa janakaadayaha
loka sangraha mevaapi sampashyan kartu marhasi (SBG 3:20)

Even Janaka and other kings attained perfection through action. Your actions should be for the benefit of the world.

यत्करोषि यदश्नासि यज्जुहोषि ददासि यत् | यत्तपस्यसि कौन्तेय तत्कुरुष्व मदर्पणम् || ९ २७ ||
yat-karoshi yadash-naasi yajju-hoshi dadaasi yat yatta-pasyasi kaunteya tat-kurushva madar-panam (SBG 9:27)

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give, whatever you practise as austerity, O Arjuna, do it for Me and as an offering unto Me.

Performing Yagnya correctly requires the seeker to be selfless and maintain total focus. But what does maintaining focus mean? What is it that needs to be focussed? And how and why should it be done?

Before we discuss the topic of developing focus, it would be useful to take a look at the five factors that cause action as stated in Shloka 18:14 of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita. They are:
1. the body, which is the seat of action
2. the ego, which claims to be the doer
3. the mind and the various senses
4. the different functions performed by the being
5. the superconsciousness which is the presiding Divinity within

Considering the analogy of a camera that has a body, a viewfinder, a camera lens, a camera lens dial, a camera lens aperture, an adjustment mechanism of the lens aperture, and, of course, the camera shutter; and of which, the camera lens dial is turned to focus on the subject and sharpen its image; it is the mind, which is the flow of thoughts, that needs to be focussed on a single thought. Controlling the mind is the greatest hurdle in the field of spirituality and it is its mastery that leads people towards realising their inner Self which in turn helps them reach into higher realms and discover their own innate intuitive abilities that had been masked all along by ignorance.

The mind can be called the most disobedient yet highly efficient and unbelievably creative slave that one can ever possess. The most common problem of the mind that people face is that the mind invariably convinces almost everyone that they are the mind when the truth is that a person is fundamentally the Self that carries along with it the mind and the senses. This great trick that the mind performs on people keeps them under its spell for almost their whole life until realisation happens either accidentally, by being taught by someone, or as a result of acts of seeking the truth.

In my experience, I have found that visualising the mind to be a camera or a piece of archery equipment if you would like, can help in pointing it towards one particular point with the intention of achieving perfection. Just like a photographer, an archer or a marksman aims to achieve a perfect shot, a person who is directing their mind to a particular point too can achieve total concentration and the desired result.

Visualising the mind as a physical object that has a camera lens attached to it greatly helps and makes it easier in learning to ‘focus’ it. As I said earlier, in the Mahabharata which includes the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, it is the analogy of war that has been employed to relate to the internal conflicts that everyone experiences and therefore we could use the analogy of archery to discuss aiming and focussing. A well-known story from the Mahabharata is about an archery competition that the teacher Dronacharya had once organised. He wanted to test his pupils to find out how well they had learned and developed their skill. He asked his pupils one by one to raise the bow and take aim at the toy bird that was placed on a treetop. As soon as each pupil had raised the bow and pointed it towards the toy bird, the teacher would ask the pupil to describe to him all that they saw. Every one of his pupils including Yudhishtra and Duryodhana said that they could see the tree, the leaves on the tree, the fruits on the tree the sky and also the clouds in the sky, Some even said that they could see the teacher as well as all the others who participated in the competition. Even before they could shoot, Dronacharya asked his pupils to put the bow back on its stand and give way to the next participant. Finally, it was the turn of Arjuna. Dronacharya asked him to describe all that he saw. Arjuna, the ace archer said that all he could see was the right eye of the toy bird. Dronacharya asked him if he could see anything or anyone else. Arjuna replied in the negative. Dronacharya commanded Arjuna to shoot. Arjuna’s arrow pierced the right eye of the toy bird and the teacher announced him to be the winner of the competition.

When the mind and the senses are not distracted and when one’s thoughts, like the eye and the arrow of Arjuna are directed on one point, there is total concentration. Doing so focuses all the energy of a person onto one single point and this usually results in a bullseye. Focus is necessary for succeeding in worldly activities and also in spiritual pursuits.

Krishna says in Shloka 2:41 of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita
व्यवसायात्मिका बुद्धिरेकेह कुरुनन्दन | बहुशाखा ह्यनन्ताश्च बुद्धयोऽव्यवसायिनाम् || २ ४१ ||
In this path, O descendant of the Kurus (Arjuna) there is a single point of focus and determination. The thoughts of the undecided are branched and are infinite.

It is quite common that people complain about their difficulties in concentration or in the total lack of it. In order to resolve this problem, one needs to comprehend that the lack of concentration basically means thinking of things other than the thing that the person is trying to focus upon. This is quite normal because it is a natural quality of the mind to do exactly what it is told not to do! There is a phenomenon known as the ironic process theory according to which, the more one tries to suppress a thought, the more strongly will it surface in the mind. The famous ‘pink elephant’ experiment in which, a person is asked to take the next 30 seconds and think about anything other than a ‘pink elephant’, proves that consciously trying to avoid thinking of something is not an easy task at all. Different meditation techniques, which include regulated breathing and other practices, help in diverting the mind from an unwanted thought or other intrusive thoughts to a point decided upon by the seeker simply by giving their mind something to do.

The spiritual practice of chanting holy names or reciting Mantras with total devotion aid in training the mind to be less unruly and more focussed. Aristotle is believed to have said. “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness ” It is completely normal to have strange or even insane thoughts but sanity and intelligence help a person master their own mind by controlling their thoughts and utilising its immense potential to achieve goals in life.

The following are a few steps that can help in improving focus and concentration:

1. Breathing – Count while slowly inhaling, holding the breath, and exhaling. All three should be of equal durations of time. Counting forces the mind to block other thoughts and to concentrate on the counting.

2. Visualise the mind to be a camera and imagine viewing through its viewfinder a particular situation or even yourself in a situation which you would like to find yourself in. Imagine turning the dial left and right to focus on the image and arrive at a sharp and crisp image. Now record this image in your memory, imagine that you are going through the process of taking aim again and make sure that you see the same image you stored in your memory.

3. Also, work on improving your observation as well as your memory skills. Go into a room, look around at the different objects in the room, and then come out of the room. Now take a sheet of paper and write down all that you remember to have seen in the room.

4. There are plenty of games available on the internet that help in developing observation and focus.

However, the most important step is to realise that the mind is separate from the Self and to know for sure that the mind is an awesome tool which, when mastered, produces the best of results.

Considering the chariot analogy used in the Kat-hopanishad can also help in achieving mind control:
The chariot is the body
The horses represent the senses
The reins represent the mind
The charioteer is the intelligence
The Self is the master of the chariot

Therefore, the mind, in this case, performs the work of the reins that control the horses that naturally tend to pull the chariot in different directions.

Krishna says in Shloka 6:07 of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita
6:07 जितात्मनः प्रशान्तस्य परमात्मा समाहितः | शीतोष्णसुखदुःखेषु तथा मानापमानयोः || ६ ७ ||
jitaat-manaha prashaan-tasya paramaatmaa samaahitaha
sheetoshna sukha duhkheshu tathaa maanaa pamaana-yoho (SBG 6:07)

The one who has conquered the mind has already reached Superconsciousness. Such a person has crossed all dualities such as cold and heat; pleasure and pain; honour and dishonour; and is always balanced, peaceful and steadfast in devotion.

यतो यतो निश्चरति मनश्चंचलमस्थिरम् | ततस्ततो नियम्यैतदात्मन्येव वशं नयेत् || ६ २६ ||
yato yato nish-charati manash chanchala masthiram
tatas tato niyam yaitad- aatman-yeva vasham nayet (SBG 6:26)

Wherever and whenever the mind wanders restlessly because of its unsteady quality, it should be restrained and brought back under the control of the Self.

Arjuna says:
अर्जुन उवाच | योऽयं योगस्त्वया प्रोक्तः साम्येन मधुसूदन | एतस्याहं न पश्यामि चंचलत्वात्स्थितिं स्थिराम् || ६ ३३ ||
Arjuna Uvaacha : yo’yam yogastvayaa proktaha saamyena madhu soodana etasyaaham na pashyaami chanchalat vaat sthitim sthiraam (SBG6:33)

Arjuna said: This Yoga of equanimity taught by You, O Krishna, I do not see its steady continuance, because of restlessness of the mind.

6:34 चंचलं हि मनः कृष्ण प्रमाथि बलवद् दृढम् | तस्याहं निग्रहं मन्ये वायोरिव सुदुष्करम् || ६ ३४ ||
chanchalam hi manaha krishna pramaathi balavad drud-ham
tasyaa-ham nigra-ham manye vaayoriva sudush-karam (SBG 6:34)

The mind is certainly restless, turbulent, strong and unyielding, O Krishna! I think it is extremely difficult to control it just as the wind is.

Krishna replies:
श्रीभगवानुवाच | असंशयं महाबाहो मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम् | अभ्यासेन तु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते || ६ ३५ ||
Sri Bhagavaan uvaacha: asamshayam mahaabaaho mano durnigraham chalam abhyaasena tu kaunteya vairaagyena cha gruhyate (SBG 6:35)

The Blessed Lord said: Undoubtedly, O mighty-armed one (Arjuna), the mind is difficult to control and restless but it can be restrained through practice and dispassion.

Alexander Graham Bell said, “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions,” said Albert Einstein.

Mark Twain stressed the importance of focus saying, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”

Learn to use the most amazing tool called the mind, which can travel at an unimaginable speed which is much higher than the speed of light, create even the most impossible of images within it and when focussed upon and used well, can create ways to realise dreams that are otherwise next to impossible.

6:06 बन्धुरात्मात्मनस्तस्य येनात्मैवात्मना जितः | अनात्मनस्तु शत्रुत्वे वर्तेतात्मैव शत्रुवत् || ६ ६ ||
bandhur aatmaa ’tmanas-tasya yenaat maivaat manaa jitaha
anaat manastu shatrutve varte taat-maiva shatruvat (SBG 6:06)

The mind is the greatest friend for the one who has conquered it. But for the one who has not done so, it is the greatest enemy.

The universe is but an extension of the conscious mind. Everything exists only until the conscious mind exists. For the one who has harnessed his or her mind and knows how to use it, the only possible limit can be the endless sky.

Have a great life ahead,


Life is a gift - Let's live it!

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