The mind can be a jungle or a well-tended garden. It is up to us to be the gatekeeper as to what gets into the garden. As the gardener, we ensure the right seeds to plant thus creating an uplifting and harmonious place that is a delight to visit and spend time in rather than a haphazard mess that is built on whim and fancy.
How does the garden grow
As I write this article, memories of my visit to the Kew Gardens in London come to mind. A most beautiful garden to wander in, it would have taken immense work to keep it in good order. Similarly, the garden of our mind should also be tended with great care. Weeds are removed as quickly as they appear and the plants are given adequate water, sunlight, and fertilisers so that they flourish to give us flower and fruit. A garden that is left untended would soon becomes a jungle. Same with the mind. The mind by itself is unable to discriminate unless we apply our intellect or power of discrimination to analyse, deduce and decide. By itself, it’s like a sponge. It takes in what you give it. Therefore, if we wanted a balanced and beautiful mind that is radiant with goodwill and fragrant with positivity then we need to plant the right seeds and tend to them with the right care. We do this by learning to think in healthy ways. Our mind would then be a most beautiful garden to wander in.
Planting good mental habits
Our mental habits are built and reinforced through our interactions with the world. Building a healthy mentality is like choosing which seeds to plant. Through a process of self-enquiry such as daily journalling, we constantly ask ourselves in a very honest way, what worked and what didn’t. What is there that we need to change about our mental habits that influence our thoughts, speech, and behaviour? We ask ourselves which ones to keep and which to grow. If they are weeds that serve no good, we try to remove them before they can take root.
For instance, if you grew up believing in an eye for an eye, then your reactions to any situation that doesn’t gel with you would most likely be retaliatory and less likely to be tolerant or forgiving. Over time, as you reinforce your habitual combative reactions, you will deepen those roots. People will come to know you as unforgiving and will learn to give you a wide berth. Or, worse yet, they might find joy pushing your buttons. But the unfortunate thing is, you won’t want to change if you don’t believe that change is necessary. That’s ok, too. There is a time for everything.
For those of us who are open and flexible to creating a beautiful life by first creating a beautiful mind then read on. Because this openness is really the basis of wanting to make meditation a part of our daily life. Meditation in its most simplest form is nothing more than being a witness to the source of all our comings and goings. Our mind. When we meditate, we are trying to become familiar with our mind. It is a tool just like the fingers on your hand, or your nose. It is an amazing tool that we must learn to manage well and it begins with learning to be a witness.
Learn to be a witness and a see-r
The aim of meditation is to teach us to be the see-r and to unlearn the judge-r.
To train your mind to be objective and detached and to keep only good thoughts.
Put simply, meditation is a state of watching and witnessing the thoughts that come through our mind as we sit there on our cushion or chair. We watch and do not engage with any of the thoughts that come and go. They come, they go. Meditation is about not following each thought down its own rabbit hole. To be just an observer. If you followed each thought down its path then it’d be called thinking.
Meditation is not about focussing or concentration
Meditation is also not forcing your mind to focus on any particular thing although some schools teach the use of a meditating symbol but that is for something else altogether and we will save that for another time. If you are curious, you can try reading up on ‘dharana’ but that is a practice much further down the road. Let us first learn to develop a meditative space in our heads. So, meditation is not about forcing our mind to be empty or repressing or suppressing thoughts. No, because the mind can never be truly empty unless you are very, very adept at the higher levels of mind control. We don’t go there in this article.
So, if a thought arises, let it come and let it go. Like for instance, if you are already feeling peckish, lots of thoughts about what to eat afterwards will certainly appear during your sitting. What do you do with them? Well, watch them as each one arises and fades. Don’t start or follow a train of thoughts about what to eat, what to prepare, how to prepare, what to use up in your fridge, etc. Over time, this teaches your mind to learn that if no one paid any attention to its churnings, the churning slows down and eventually peters off. Then another arises, and peters off. On and on. Kind of like a child finally learning that negative attention seeking behaviour just doesn’t work because it doesn’t get mummy and daddy to react and give it what it wants. But it’ll still want to try.
So, what is really meditation
For that, I would like to invite you to watch the video below. I think it sums up really well what meditation is and how it is meant to be more than just something you do only on a cushion, removed from the world. No, just as my teachers would say there is no need to go to a cave or the mountains, meditation is and should be a part of active life. Yes, being on the cushion has a purpose but what’s the use if you are perpetually fighting with everyone else when you are off the cushion? It won’t make sense.
So, to answer the question of how to meditate, start by just being a witness to the comings and goings of your mind both on and off the cushion. If you would only persist in this simple act, it will naturally progress to something else, taking you into beautiful spaces you never knew existed within yourself. Should you do Vipassana or Satipatthana? Well, both of these schools teach a technique that involves either the watching or counting of the breath. Yes, why not if these methods suit you. There’s also Zen meditation and yogic meditation. However, my aim for this article is not to expound on the techniques of meditation but rather highlight the fact that unless we learn to manage our mind, it will manage us instead. And that won’t do.
Related reading: Meditation – how to manage the 4 aspects of the mind.
Related reading: Mindfulness – clean, clear, bright.
~ ॐ ~