One of the things I noticed (like so many of us) when first attempting meditation was the constant ramblings of my mind. I was shocked and dismayed at how a simple thought, feeling or sensation could waft through my mind and without hesitation tantalize my attention over hill and dale, and I wondered “could this mind be trained to sit still and relax?”
I have been practicing meditation since 1996, 18 years. During my first year of practice (I don’t recall who the teacher was at the time) I followed a guided meditation that used an image I still employ today. This image worked then because it encouraged a firm yet gentle attitude that countered my usual judgmental mind. It works for me still because my training is not complete. I will train in this way . . .
The first steps in training my mind was to relate to it like that of a cute-cuddly puppy. When training a puppy to sit we cup it in two hands, look directly into its eyes, direct its rump to the floor and say “sit.” And it will do so for about two seconds until a dust-ball tumbles past its line of sight. Retrieving the puppy I again take it gently in both hands, bring it back to the spot of training and begin again…
and again…and again. All the while, the instructor informed, notice and delight in every second the puppies attention expands on its new skill.
Silly as it may sound, I named my imaginary puppy Boo-Boo. In this way I practiced kindness with the little boo-boos of wandering off topic. It’s just a little boo-boo, come back here, right here. That’s it, good girl. Sit Boo-Boo, sit.
This image works for me still, as second nature when I realize my mind is about to or has wandered off into unwholesome impressions. Sit Boo-Boo, sit.
Learning how to meditate, how to develop the mind, is learning how to direct attention in a skillful way. What we direct our attention to is what our reality is. We can direct our attention to all the chaos in the world around us, or to the chaos is the world around us, or to the chaos of our own personal dramas – but we don’t have to do that. We can direct our attention in other ways, we can learn how to direct attention to things which are very soothing to the mind, things that are conducive to peace, to a sense of clarity. Or we direct it to the things that come up, investigating and contemplating them simply as feelings.
This excerpt comes from an essay I found very useful. It’s titled Meditation on the Breath. In this essay he explains the sixteen steps of breath meditation in very simple and tangible terms. It’s a study worth printing out, bringing your attention to and encouraging it to stay put.
The first set concerns the body, and the first two stages of it are just about knowing the short breath (rassam pajanati), and knowing the long breath (digham pajanati). From then on each stage starts off with: ‘The monk trains himself thus…’ I shall train in this way.