A Meditator Wrangles the Unruly Mind

In Buddhism, Travel
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I ply a calm, dark ocean on a plain wooden boat, and all around me is a horizon threatening a dawn that never comes, the deep, vibrant blue neither brightening nor dimming. The rim of the sky fades into a starless black void above, for that is the gateway to the senses, and the senses here on the ocean of the Mind are shut.

But a closed Mind is still subject to itself. In the absence of the external, memories surface in luminous reds, greens, and blues, some murky in the depths while others shine with clarity. Their resonance disturbs the tranquil ocean with ripples and waves, which frequently (and unexpectedly) turn into tsunamis. But though the oarless boat seems close to capsizing, I remain dry—shaken, with complete loss of focus, but dry.

This visualization is how my meditation practice began several months ago as I first attempted to navigate my mind. For something so essential to, and inseparable from, what we conventionally consider to be “I”, it was shocking to see how dense, tangled, and uncontrollable my mind was. Most of us think we are in control of ourselves, yet if you attempt to focus your mind for even one minute you quickly see that you are in control of nothing. It is a humbling realization. You—I—all of us—are completely subjugated to our consciousnesses, feeding them as we feed our bodies—feeding them with new sensations and/or old memories. The mind endlessly wanders to feed the stream of consciousness, whenever and wherever it will, with or without your bye or leave.

I have since encountered different types of meditation practices, including Vipassana meditation as taught by S. N. Goenka at one of his many centers. This practice eschews the idea of visualization, considering it a crutch to true progress. I have been strictly following this practice for several weeks now. For me, it has been the best tool I have found for developing concentration. I can sometimes deny my stream of consciousness for several minutes at a time, though thoughts and memories inevitably push themselves to the fringe my focus, demanding my immediate attention. I’m beginning to find the strength to leave them there at the fringe until they pass away, though they often come to the fore. The goal, then, is to recognize the wandering of the mind and reset it to a place of equanimity and emptiness as quickly as possible. It’s a constant tightrope act.

People are like mirrors to each other. Many have no sense of themselves except through others, believing the reflection they receive from another person is who they are. But not every mirror reflects reality. Some are warped in various ways, cracked, or even shattered. We shun those who reflect back an image of us that is worse than (who we think) we are. The weak gravitate toward those who reflect back a better image than the reality while the strong are content with an accurate reflection, not seeking a sense of proportion greater than their merit. All the emotions, negative and positive, thus bounce from mirror to mirror, person to person—bouncing far and wide, affecting complete strangers distant from the source. A strong mind infects the world with its positive aura. Developing deep concentration, clarity, wisdom—strengthening the mind for myself and all sentient beings—what could be more important? What could be more worthy of my efforts than this?

There is a stronger person, still, than he who is content with an accurate reflection: he who truly knows himself and relies on no reflection at all.

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