The ability to sit with stillness and stability allows awareness to become transparent by shedding particular attachments or loops of conversations, and revealing the underlying clarity of mind. Like a glass of water with many fragments swirling around, the mind carries and colors our lives and worlds. When the water, or the mind, sits long enough for the sediment to fall and the medium to clear, we re-set to a state of clarity and translucence.The world, the sediment, needn’t change: our ability to see it becomes clearer and so our activities and relationships do as well.
What is meditation?
Meditation proceeds not by emptying the mind, but organizing it. In organizing, we differentiate the capacity for attention from the objects of attention. In classifying the kinds of things we can pay attention to, the activity begins to become less frantic. Like organizing a room, organizing the mind has the effect of making the interior more spacious and clear.
Meditation is a second order attention: attending to how we pay attention. In meditation we uncover and examine our habits of mind. We may or may not be pleased with what we find on a given day, but this is not important. We are not looking with a mind to change. We are looking with a mind toward investigating, uncovering, coming to know. Change will come as a result of the process, but the process is not directed at any particular change.
Just like when you get to know a friend or loved one, you invest energy and take joy in the process of revelation. Through this relationship, you both grow and change. But your intent in getting to know the other person isn’t to change either one of you. Approach your own mind and heart with at least as much gentleness and care as you approach your dearest loved one.
Meditation starts with just paying attention. The best object for this kind of sustained attention is one that is pervasive, repetitive, and automatic. Breath, sensations and thoughts are all readily available, inexhaustible possibilities.
By simplifying the field of choices for where to apply our attention, we exercise our ability to choose a focus and hold it in concentration without effort or strain. That’s the template, don’t worry if it doesn’t all come together at first. The point of meditation is manifest simply in the doing. It’s a kind of exercise, so the goal continues to recede from our grasp, even as our ability becomes stronger and our activity less struggle.
What muddles the mind is not having thoughts, but lack of awareness of some or many of those thoughts, and not letting go of thoughts when their usefulness has passed. Most of us get caught up with the contents of our thoughts. In meditation, we take a step back from the content of the thoughts and regard each thought as if it were neither true or false, but a story in which we’re not involved. In this way, we increase our awareness of individual thoughts and our ability to disengage from thoughts that we usually get caught inside.