The secret of all true knowledge and of all great achievement is concentration, and failure can generally be traced to a want of that power. Application and perseverance are simply wasted, lost, dissipated without concentration. The principle is this: given an object or point, make for it, stick to it, go round and round it, view it from different sides. Your aim is to know all about it, therefore circumvent it, i.e., study its surroundings, its environment. Notice the relation between the object and its surroundings. Thus you will see its various sides absolutely and relatively—i.e., see them both as parts of a whole and in relation to outside things. Don't be satisfied until you have done all this. It means work; it means time; it means expenditure of energy; it means taking pains—and even, as is proverbially said of genius, "infinite pains." And if knowledge is your aim, you cannot reach it on any other terms; you must buy it at its own valuation. Some people are always out and about, seeing many things and yet they gain little knowledge that is of real value. The reason is that they are too volatile. They flit and flirt from one object to another like a bee among a thousand flowers, sipping here and tasting there. Such people have no power of concentration. They never do anything thoroughly. They don't read a book, but only "skim" it. They don't understand and appreciate the word "thoroughness." All they do is superficial, careless, slipshod, and untidy. And all this is for want of concentration or focusing of their eye, their mind, their muscles and nerves, upon the work they are engaged in; for want of "pulling themselves together" and concentrating all their powers, like a battalion of soldiers, into a solid square. Some people, again, attempt too many things: hence they cannot do any one of them thoroughly. Life is short, and human energy is strictly limited, and therefore must be strictly economized. How many Jacks of all trades and masters of none we see around us! This is why the man of one idea gets through such a lot of work as compared with the versatile man, the man of many parts and many fancies. lt is better far to do one thing thoroughly than a dozen things indifferently, for the one thing well done is the thing that gives lasting pleasure and is "a joy forever." Perfection tends to life: imperfection to death. It "pays" to be thorough, for the satisfaction of being right and doing right is one of the sweetest and most intense of human joys. Hence the Divine command: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."
Recently a comet was announced as being visible to the naked eye; the newspapers gave a map of the principal stars in that region of the sky, and by following straight lines drawn through these various points—lines which all converged to one point—the actual position of the comet was indicated. Having studied and mastered the map, the next thing was to go out in the cold night air and apply the mental conception to the actual facts. It was a line lesson in the art of concentration. Probably many tried to find the comet but few succeeded. I suppose all would have succeeded had they persevered against the many difficulties involved in the problem—of which difficulties not the least was that of having to look at an object directly over one's head! Another lesson taught us by the comet is that when in the pursuit of knowledge we fail in our quest, it is generally due to our failure to exert our powers of concentration to the utmost; for it is only too true that laziness and a slavish yielding to the force of inertia is the cause of most of our failures.
Concentration is the opposite of dissipation. Everything in the universe has a center towards which all its parts tend or gravitate and from which they all proceed or radiate. The essence and spirit of the thing lies there in concentrated form like the kernel in a nut. Therefore, if you want to know the real value of an action, search the heart, for there lies the center and motive of the man.
How often one is deterred from undertaking some enterprise by comparing one's own limited powers with the apparent vastness of the object—as, indeed, many must have done while looking for that dim spectral light among the countless thousands of stars in the unfathomable vault of the deep blue heavens. At such times the effect on the mind is bewildering and almost paralyzing, and we shrink from the task in despair, protesting that it is impossible. Fortunately, however, there is a way through every difficulty for all who are really in earnest, and when we know the secret of it the method is infallible. It is the converse process of concentration, and is contained in the formula, "Divide and conquer." Have we a large piece of work to do? A large space of ground to cover? There is only one way of getting safely, comfortably, wisely through it. It is this: Divide it up into small bits. Arrange the bits in order of relative importance to each other. Take each piece separately and do it thoroughly. And so, as by magic, what at first appeared impossible and hopeless now resolves itself into an easy and pleasant task; what was an intractable mass, a mountain of difficulty, now presents itself as an easy and orderly ascent of steps. Thus the work grows, as if automatically, under our hands. But the main thing, never to be lost sight of, is Unity—i.e., the fact that all those separate bits are parts of one organic whole, all of them radiating from one common center. Therefore, keep your eye on the center as the motive and raison d'être of the work. This is the way, the only way, in which all sound work is done, all good houses are built, all true books are written, all true pictures are painted, all line music is composed, all noble characters are built, all good lives are lived.
We speak of the cardinal points of the compass as four. The Chinese are wiser, for, say they, there are five, namely, North, South, East, West, and-—the Center! And so some people are forever searching for God here, there, and everywhere—in this system of philosophy or in that, in this or that book, church, creed, school, cult—North, South, East, West. Their cry is, "Oh that I knew where l might find Him!" And, strangely enough, it never occurs to them to look in that most obvious of all places—their own Heart—THE CENTER.
it is not too little, but too great for him, that he doeth it not.
To find within his heart the Holy Grail.
—Alfred William Bennett, M. A.