Remain focused and alert
Although we are trying to calm the mind, we shouldn’t confuse a temporary sense of peace or bliss as the real goal of our sitting time. A feeling of tranquility in the long run can be a by-product of meditation, but don’t let it overshadow your concentration.
“Concentration can be of great value, but it can also be seriously limiting if you become seduced by the pleasant quality of this inner experience and….you might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are
Mind Training Requires Patience
The tendency is to find a “happy place” and try to stay there as long as you can. While this can be pleasant for a short time, you are skirting the process and forgoing these long-term benefits. The process of calming the mind can take time and discipline.
“Ancient Pali texts liken meditation to the process of taming a wild elephant. The procedure in those days was to tie a newly captured animal to a post with a good strong rope. When you do this, the elephant is not happy. He screams and tramples, and pulls against the rope for days. Finally it sinks through his skull that he can’t get away, and he settles down. Eventually you can dispense with the rope and post altogether, and train your elephant for various tasks.” – Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
In this analogy the wild elephant is your wildly active mind, the rope is mindfulness, and the post is our object of meditation, our breathing. Once we have tamed the elephant, we can teach it to do tricks!
Strive to Make Mindfulness a Natural Reflex
When you come out of meditation–whether a chime sounds after 30 minutes, or you decide to stop after fifteen–you should simply open your eyes with equal awareness of the present moment as you held during meditation. After some time of training our mind, we hope to make this transition seamless. Soon, you will be able to switch your mindfulness on and off in daily life.
“In the Zen tradition, group sitting meditations are sometimes ended with a loud wooden clacker which is whacked together forcefully. The message here is to cut–time to move on now. [It] reminds us to be fully present in moments of transition…and respond with the full range of our emotional capacity and our wisdom.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are
As we integrate awareness and calm into our lives, watching each thought as it arises, we become more compassionate and objective, less reactionary and abrupt. We are reshaping our minds to handle the constant flow of thoughts and decisions we face every day.