You’ve learned that the journey or the
path — continuously trying to recognize
that we can actually relax and be who we are — begins
with simplifying everything in meditation. We
sit on the cushion, follow our breath and watch
our thoughts. Mindfulness/awareness meditation,
sitting meditation, is the foundation of this
particular journey. In this lesson you look more
closely at the path of mindfulness and awareness.
For basic stability
to be there when you sit down to meditate, you
need consistency in bringing the mind back to the
breath. How do you hold the mind to the breath?
How do you train the wild horse of your mind? The
tools you have for training the mind are mindfulness
The power of mindfulness is that we can just
bring our mind back to the breath
The power of awareness is that we know when
to do it. Awareness knows when the horse has
bolted, and tells mindfulness to bring it back.
Bringing our minds back to the breath is anything
but easy. Our mindfulness is weak; we're so thoroughly
trained in following our thoughts. Our awareness
is weak as well; it's hard for us to see where
we are and what we're doing.
It can help your development
of mindfulness to understand three qualities of mindfulness:
familiarity, remembering, and nondistraction. When
these three aspects are present, we are truly mindful.
It seems that shamatha meditation should be
But when we begin to practice, we realize that
we don't really know what the breath is. Where
does it begin? Where does it end? Exactly what
Do you find it
hard to focus on the breath?
Is it difficult to even find your
If you can't
remember, sit for a few minutes
right now, then ask yourself
How can we stabilize our shamatha practice by
unwavering mindfulness of the breath if we’re
not familiar with it? At the beginning, when
we’re not familiar with the breath or the
present moment, we come back and we can't find
it! We have a vague idea of where it is, but
when we try to look for it, we get lost and distracted.
So in shamatha, we try to make the mind and the
breath very, very recognizable.
"How can I bring my mind back?" Well,
the present moment and the breath have to be
appealing, to have peace and harmony. With familiarity,
meditation is actually enjoyable. It's like going
to a place where we want to go. When we come
back, it is just as if we were getting into a
hot shower, or finding some nice place to lie
on the grass.
becoming familiar with the stability
of our mind and we enjoy it. It's relaxing
and comfortable to rest there, like
going to our room to be alone when
the house is full of people.
If we don't become familiar with the inherent
stability of the mind, there won't ever be anything
interesting about coming back to the present
moment. We'll just be holding on by our fingernails
because we think we have to. We know that acknowledging,
recognizing, and releasing thoughts reduces discursiveness,
but we also need positive reasons for coming
back to the breath.
Once we relax and get into the movement and
rhythm of the breath, the present moment and
the breath become very familiar. Our distractions
and discursiveness are no longer quite so seductive.
We'd rather return to the present moment than
chase a thought.
Remembering means holding something
in your mind, being able to bring it to mind.
In shamatha practice we are saying: "Do
you remember the present moment? Do you remember
When you sit,
do you forget what you're doing?
Are you remembering what the
practice is that you're doing
or are you just sitting there?
the once scattered mind stabilizes,
its natural aspects arise. It has more
energy to be where it is — which
is mindfulness —and to know what
it's doing — which is awareness.
Remembering has an unstudied quality.
We're so steady in our mindfulness that we always
know what we're doing in the present moment;
we're always remembering to hold our mind to
the breath. If we're caught up in thought, we're
forgetting that we're meditating. When we're
replaying last night's hockey game in our head,
we've lost our mindfulness.
With regular practice we develop
mindfulness, becoming familiar with the breath
and remembering to return. We finally settle
into a continuous state of not forgetting.
When you sit, are you
easily distracted? Do you start remembering
the instuctions, what you're doing,
and then you're distracted by a thought,
a sensation, a smell...?
Though it's hard to imagine when
we first begin to meditate, if we stick with
our practice, our mind's tendency to fly like
a horse out of the gate will disappear. As we
develop nondistraction, we place the mind on
the breath and it stays! The minds natural stability
and strength will shine through any potential
distraction or discursiveness. The mind still
sees, hears, smells, thinks, feels—but
it no longer chases wildly after these perceptions.
When we have developed the elements
of familiarity, remembering, and nondistraction,
we can say we are truly mindful. We're no longer
so distracted that when we bring ourselves back
to the breath, we have to hold on for dear life.
We can see clearly what is. As the chatter begins
to dissipate, clarity has an opportunity to arise,
no longer hidden in the discursive activity of
thoughts and emotions.
Tibet people say that it's like taking
a bath in milk.
This quality of the mind is straightforward
and vibrant. There's not a lot of thinking going
on, and we perceive very clearly what is happening
in our body and in the environment. The mind
feels light—and at the same time it is
not disturbed, because it is stable. We can experience
this same clarity of mind in mundane situations—when
the sun comes out after a storm, when we roll
in the snow after taking a sauna.
an example of bringing the mind under
our own power, let's say we take a peach.
It is very ripe and we bite into it.
If our mind is fully there as we bite
into it, you can say that our mind has
been brought under our own power. The
peach is juicy and delicious and sweet,
and our taste is right there. Our mind
is there to experience it and taste it
mindfully. It is totally a wonderful
experience. We are fully under our own
control, experiencing life, experiencing
this very simple piece of fruit. However,
if our mind is not brought under control,
as soon as we bite the peach, we say, "It
is too ripe... I want another one...
This was too expensive... It is not as
good as the last one," whatever
it may be. The mind goes off and starts
thinking about where we parked our car.