Turning the Mind into an Ally - by Sakyong Mipham

With an untrained mind, we'll live most days of our lives at the mercy of our moods. Waking up in the morning is like gambling: "What mind did I end up with today? Is it the irritated mind, the happy mind, the anxious mind, the angry mind, the compassionate mind, or the loving mind?" Most of the time we believe that the mind-set we have is who we are and we live our day from it. We meditate on it. We don't question it. Whether we wake up feeling dread or excitement or just feeling sleepy, the propelling motivation is simply wanting things to go well for me.

In peaceful abiding, the object is the simple act of breathing. The breath represents being alive in the im­ mediacy of the moment. Placing the mind on the breath and returning to it again and again is the essence of shamatha. Through resting the mind on the breath we stay present, awake, and mindful. Placement means staying with the feeling of the breathing. The flow of the breath soothes the mind and allows for steadiness and relaxation. It also reduces discursiveness. This is ordinary breathing; nothing is exaggerated. We just breathe. If you're having a hard time staying with the breath--spacing out or losing track between breathing out and breathing in--counting the in- and out-cycles of the breath can be a helpful remedy to bring yourself back to focus. We breathe in, and then out--one. In and then out--two. If you use this method, count seven or twenty-one breaths and then start over. If you become distracted and lose count, start over again at one. Once you are more focused, you can drop the counting.

How to Gather a Scattered Mind

In working with discursiveness, we might be tempted to be loose in our control. However, it's essen­tial to repeatedly place our mind on the breath. Recog­ nize the thought, acknowledge it, let it dissolve, and return to the breath. This breaks up the river of discur­siveness. Don't think about what kind of thought you're having,just see it for what it is, and place your mind elsewhere. Experiencing the mind's movement at this level is much of our training in shamatha. Working steadily with wild chatter in meditation makes main­ taining mindfulness much easier to do during daily life.

Forgetting the Instructions

The antidote to forgetting the instructiops is mind­ fulness in particular, remembering. We need to remind ourselves continuously of the details. If you've forgotten what you're doing with your mind, almost inevitably you've also forgotten what you're doing with your body. Start by remembering your posture. Is your spine still upright? Are you relaxed, or are you holding tension in your shoulders and arms? What are you doing with your gaze? Simply checking your posture and starting your meditation over --"Now I 'm placing my mind on the breath"-- can be the most direct way to invoke the instructions when you've forgotten in the middle of a session.

Contemplative Meditation Introduction

Since having a stable mind is the ground of contempla­ tion, begin your session with a few minutes of shamatha. Then shift your focus from the breath to a certain thought, inspiration, or intent. Contemplation is peaceful abiding with a different object, so everything you've learned about shamatha applies to this practice. When you recognize that you're thinking about some­ thing besides the object of meditation, acknowledge that you're distracted and return to the thought you're contemplating.

  • Samsara and Karma

  • Loving-Kindness

  • Motivation. In contemplating our motivation, we see that some­ times we're stuck in our hard, tightly closed mind. What will pull us out of our slump? Sometimes loosen­ ing up by taking a-shower or a walk or a rest might be the way to open into a larger motivation. Perhaps we do some yoga or meditate for a few minutes in order to feel better, a little stronger.

Warrior in the World

It all comes back to one of my favorite say­ings, "If you want to be miserable, think about your­ self. If you want to be happy, think of others." This is how we bring enlightened mind down to earth.

In reality, what have we done for anybody? We keep taking and consuming, both psychologically and materially, and then we expect more. The beauty of rousing love and compassion is that it forces us beyond this small view. Visualizing someone else experiencing happiness in the face of our attachment strengthens our ability to let go. Our mind becomes lighter. It becomes very clear that our grudges and desires are habitual ways of holding on to ourselves. Rousing bodhichitta is a way to turn our attitude toward gen­erosity. It propels us to start giving rather than taking.

Preparing to Practice

Since the way we feel changes all the time, our practice will need to change as well. Be compassionate , and honest about your own needs and, at the same time, apply the necessary discipline. For example, if you're feeling agitated, it might be a good idea to take a slow walk outside before beginning your session. If you're drowsy, you might take a cool shower to wake up before you sit. Perhaps you'd like to read a little about meditation to remind yourself why you are practicing.

Instructions for Contemplative Meditation

  1. Calm the mind by resting on the breathing.

  2. When you feel ready, bring up a certain thought or intention in the form of words.

  3. Use these words as the object of meditation, continually returning to them as distractions arise.

  4. In order to help rouse the heartfelt experience of their meaning, think about the words. Bring ideas and images to mind to inspire the meaning.

  5. As the meaning of the words begins to pene­trate, let the words drop away, and rest in that.

  6. Become familiar with that meaning as it penetrates.

  7. Conclude your session and arise from your meditation with the meaning in your heart. "Meaning" is direct experience, free of words.

  8. Now enter the world aspiring to conduct your­ self with the view of your contemplation. For example, if you have been contemplating the preciousness of human birth, your view will be one of appreciation.