In the previous post I talked about how writing allows thoughts to surface which otherwise have little opportunity to make it to the daylight of our consciousness. Writing is our chance to focus on one aspect of our lives, slow everything down and, in doing so, gain greater control over our thoughts. Meditation has a similar effect. This post looks at the mind’s restless influence and how meditation can help to quieten it.
In any day of our lives there are a thousand and one thoughts competing for attention. Add the notion, raised in numerous posts on this blog, that our mind is out to trip us up, and we begin to see the attraction of a quiet mind. Meditation offers us that. By making a commitment to sit still and silent, we create the environment for the quietening to begin. As with all the best things in life, it’s simple but it isn’t easy. This, in my experience, is how it is in the beginning:
As soon as you take the first meditative breath, you notice the unrest. You can’t seem to find a relaxed position, your breathing has suddenly become erratic and there is a whirl of thoughts in your mind which you swear weren’t there before. So you make slight adjustments to your seating position, telling yourself you’ll have more success if you can just get comfortable. The discomfort eases momentarily. Then it returns. Eventually you learn to accept it and move on because there are other things more deserving of your attention.
Focus instead on your breathing. Focus on it for as long as you can. If you manage it for three seconds you’re doing well. It’s difficult because there is a greater force at work: your mind. The mind is powerful. It supplies us with the words, thoughts, memories and imagination which enrich our lives. However, like any entity with too much power, it can easily become a law unto itself. It produces thoughts we did not request, distracts us from jobs we need to be doing and tells us things which simply aren’t true.
Left unattended, your mind will wander. Even during meditation your mind is busy in the background. When you become aware what it’s up to, you are drawn along well-established timelines into your past and future; taken on a tour of all the jobs on your to-do list, the people you miss in your life, jokes which make you smile, people you love, books you still need to read, phone calls to make, plans for the weekend, plans for the future, concerns for the future. Every thought a familiar one. They are your thoughts. But you are not in control. Your mind is your tour guide.
Such is the might of the mind, it seems incredulous to suggest that it can be tamed. But it is possible. Sit quietly. Patiently. Be persistent and keep bringing your mind back onto something you have decided should be your focus. It takes practice and discipline but it works. Karaj used to liken it to the taming of an elephant. Initially, to prevent the animal from wandering, only a strong, heavy chain and a concrete post will do. With time, the restrictions become gradually less necessary until just a rope looped over a stake in the ground will suffice.
Meditation takes time too. But just as water carves its way painstakingly through rock, over time we can exercise a steady and dramatic effect on the mind. Don’t sit to meditate because you want to feel inner peace – such a lofty goal could easily demotivate. Sit because you want to observe how busy your mind is. When you do you will see the influence you have. You will see how sitting, observing and refocusing can calm its unruly nature. If you persevere, you might achieve inner peace, you might not. But you will certainly have a quieter mind.