Taming the mind in meditation involves a gradual
process of gathering the scattered mind. When we
sit, thoughts do not disappear – nor do we
try to make them disappear. In this lesson you
will further explore working with thoughts.
Note: For further exploration see Turning
the Mind Into an Ally.
The outermost circle represents our daily life.
As we move in toward the center we work with different
levels of thoughts—from the gross to the
subtle. The point in the middle of the circle represents
the fortitude and clarity that underlie the wildness
of our scattered mind.
Spend a few moments reflecting on
each "level" of thought.
What is your relationship to each?
How aware of each are you?
Self awareness in your daily life
Making your mind an ally requires self-awareness
on every level. So, before you even place your
mind on the breath, it’s good to begin meditation
by practicing some kind of contemplation. How often
do you take the time to see yourself with clarity?
After you sit down and before you
begin practicing the shamatha technique,
slow down and reflect on your presence
in the world. Spend a few minutes
thinking about what you like and
don't like, what you 're worried
about, and where in your life you
feel a sense of relief.
Yes, you can cultivate self-awareness even at
the outer ring of your life. Having the patience
and honesty to be self-aware is the basis of a
healthy sense of self. Taking the meditation posture — grounded,
balanced, and relaxed — you embody healthy
When you begin to apply the meditation
technique, following the breath and acknowledging
thoughts as they arise, the sheer volume of thoughts
can feel overwhelming. This is sometimes (traditionally)
described as a waterfall. (Yes, for hundreds of
years meditators beside yourself have experienced
this!) The shear volume of water rushing over the
falls can feel more overwhelming than the content
or intricacies of the thoughts.
You may even think, "I wasn't
this bewildered before. Meditation has made my
state of mind worse. It was supposed to give me
peace, liberation, and tranquility, but now I'm
more angry and irritated than ever."
Have you experienced this? What
do you think is really going on?
Chances are you’ve just never
stopped to notice the level of thought and emotion
that you experience all the time. This glimpse
into your wild and overheated mind can frighten
you. Meditation is showing us the nature of the
beast. This is why it takes courage to practice
At this stage you’re simply
recognizing the individual thoughts in the rush.
Finding the breath within the torrent of thoughts
might feel impossible. You know it's here somewhere,
but when you look for it, you get lost and distracted
by the waterfall.
This stage is really important (even
though it may not feel so great). Give it your
appreciation. By recognizing the wildness of your
mind, you begin to develop synergy with it. Seeing
the torrential rain of thoughts is how you begin
to train the mind. We can't possibly meditate without
having first experienced the wildness of our mind!
So simply recognize thoughts, and
then recognize them again. You're
noticing the movement of our mind.
Once you can recognize them, begin
acknowledging them in passing: "Oh!
A thought!" The point is to
be quick and neutral. If you look
at the thought slowly, deliberately,
or judgmentally, you’re only
adding more thoughts to the process!
A thought occurs. It is neither
good nor bad. Recognize and acknowledge
it. This brings you back to where
you are, sitting on a cushion and
trying to place your mind on the
You 're learning how to cut through the discursiveness.
Our vibrating mind
At every stage, shamatha is a practice
of noticing how the mind vibrates— how
it creates story, speed, and solidity—and
learning how to tune it to the present
moment. To recognize a thought is to see
the mind vibrating. To acknowledge that
we're thinking slows the movement down.
When we recognize the minds movement, we
realize the possibility of peaceful abiding.
When the mental frequency is no longer
vibrating with movement, we experience
the naturally even and immovable quality
of the mind, if only for a moment.
Recognizing, acknowledging, and releasing
thoughts, we realize that we don't have
to cling to the mind’s movement as
if it were a life raft. We'll still be
here even if we let go. Releasing the thoughts
and returning to the breath gives us a
sense of space and relief. In that instant
we are grounded, so to speak, because we
can see ourselves as separate from our
thoughts and emotions. There's distance
between ourselves and our thoughts, which
we come to see as the effects of the speed
of our mind. We gain perspective.
Putting distance between ourselves and
our thoughts, not being swept into the
mind's movement, our minds become more
pliable and we have more clarity about
our direction in life.