When we first start to meditate, and even after many years of intermittent practice, our mind is like a bottle of flies. We decide our practice will be to watch our breath, then, one hundred other thoughts emerge and bounce around in our brain. Perhaps one thought finds its way to the top of the bottle and out through the small opening. Once away from the entrapment of a bottle, a fly is free to go where it wants. Likewise, our thought, free from the practice of mindfulness, takes us to its favourite spot – often back in time to relive old moments. It finds a memory and considers, this is what I should have said. It mulls things over and thinks, this is what I could have done. Sometimes, it takes us into the future – to the land of worries, concerns, preoccupations, and projections.
For the most part, we all want to be free. It is a shared value, one of immense importance. So a mind free to wander where it likes could be considered a good thing in that context. However, we must ask ourselves about the mind. Who is its master?
The mind, or our intellectual centre, is meant for thinking. That’s its job. It can hold memories; take in information and form concepts. It compares and analyses. It makes sense of things. So when we sit to meditate and we want to have a quiet mind, we naturally wonder what our mind should be doing. Our mind has concluded that we will benefit from meditating. It has helped us find a comfortable spot to sit. It has chosen some mood music and selected some scented candles for the little meditation alter it has conceived would look inspiring. It has considered what disruptions might occur during the meditation and developed a strategy for overcoming them. It has decided what practice to do during the meditation. But then, once we’re comfy on our pillow, it no longer has a job to do. This is too strange for the normally busy, busy mind.
In actuality, the mind still has a perfectly essential and most important job to do – even during meditation. It’s just not used to this job. The mind is to act as a passive receptacle for knowledge (gnosis) from within. We’re talking about real inner knowledge, the kind that is pregnant with wisdom. The knowledge that springs from a realisation of our connectedness with all people and things; intuitive knowledge imbued with dignity and love. However, the mind is not used to this kind of receiving. If it’s not receiving all sorts of stimulation from the outside world through the five senses, something that it is very comfortable with, it is receiving information from our subconscious, where all our habitual thoughts and feelings live – the thoughts that bubble up whenever a good opportunity arises. So we have to do a little retraining of this very important part of us – our mind.
Like learning to play an instrument, which requires repetitive practice with tiny incremental advancements, we need to be regular with our training. When we sit and focus on our breath, we give our mind something to do. The breath is in the moment. It’s our grounding, and foundation, a subject we can focus our mind on. We can expect lots of other thoughts to come and take away our focus. I often hear people who have tried to meditate say, “I just can’t do it. My mind is too busy. I can’t stop it.” They are not alone. Just about everyone who begins a meditation programme has this experience.
The solace, if it can be called that, is that even in meditation our mind still has a job to do. It’s just much simpler than its old job. It takes a while for the mind to get used to its new role. Our awareness, or better said, our consciousness, gets to take centre stage in meditation. Our consciousness, which is pure awareness, has the job of watching our thoughts – whether they are habitual ones bubbling up from the subconscious – or mindful ones of the present moment, focused on the breath, or the heart beat, or the sound in the room. Through that awareness, we can remind our mind of its job during meditation. To be in the moment.
With each meditation, even if it is only 5 or 10 minutes, keep bringing the thoughts back to the moment (to the breath or heart) and cultivate a familiarity with that experience. Let it become the new habitual thought. This will be highly beneficial for your ongoing meditation practice and for life in general. Be diligent. The benefits will amaze you.
This is a step on the path to become the master of your own mind. With that mastery you can then choose to become a receiver for your own inner wisdom. And there is no better guide than that.