We think… and think… and think. Our minds are constantly abuzz – a cauldron of transmuting thoughts. Some spur us to action and others meander by, disengaged and un-manifested. Most pass through our conscious with little to no direction. Yet, amidst this shifting ocean is the foundation for all we do. No action can be preformed, no object built, nothing can be accomplished until it is first embraced as a thought. Is it not wise to embrace some for of mental discipline? To ensure that our minds, our thoughts, are directed properly, fluidly, with awareness and consciousness?
Exercise mental discipline. Learn which thoughts to act upon and which to release, but before we can do that we’ll first have to learn to quiet the noise of the mind. It is towards this endeavor meditation takes us.
Meditation is not the total absence of thought as many have come to believe. While some types of meditation do encourage a ‘no mind’ approach others encourage the practitioner to hold focus on an object or image. Both are meditations and both require a sharp and controlled mind. This is the first and often largest of the hurdles to overcome in learning to meditate.
New practitioners will find that simply sitting still for any length of time can be difficult. Many take up physical practices to train the body, increase body awareness so it responds to the mind. Yoga is a fantastic example in this respect. Whatever practice is used, the outcome should be mental discipline over the impulses and movements of the body. In our work to quiet the mind we will need to semi-disengage from the senses of the body which constantly feed us information. Once this is accomplished we can turn our attention inward and begin our work to steady and guide the currents of thought.
Many techniques exist for mental discipline. Focusing on long controlled breaths is popular and practical as this not only slows the heart-rate and calms the senses but also provides a single point of focus. Our first goal should not be to control or ‘shut off’ the mind – the latter being impossible as we must be connecting with consciousness. We exist in a human body – a physical mind is necessary for our ability to process experiences. Instead, practitioners should begin with observation.
Observe each thought as it passes by, but don’t hang on to it. Give no thought more weight than the next. Observe. Does your mind dwell on an event that’s past? If so, recognize that this thought only distracts from the present – you are missing this moment while dwelling on the past. Do you view this practice as a chore? Your mind is being noisy again. Focus on the breath – come back to center.
Slowing the current of thought is the first step towards focusing and mental discipline. As we progress, our techniques will change but the goal remains the same. Slow the whirlpool of thought so we can act mindfully not mindlessly. Quiet the mind so we can recognize which thoughts will lead us to right action and choose our actions so they reflect our true will not our impulses. All this through observation.
In the coming blogs we’ll breakdown various meditation techniques. In the meantime, those new to meditation should begin to practice stillness. Sit comfortably in a quiet place for 15 minutes. Do not move. Practice non-attatchment. Steady the breath. Continue this practice until stillness can be maintained effortlessly.