Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Harnessing the Wandering Mind

We are never going to be able to completely stop our minds from wandering during meditation practice. So while we cannot tame the wandering mind, we can learn to harness it to offer us insight.

As we sit and devote our attention to the feeling of the breath, we will inevitably be aware that the mind drifts to other thoughts from time to time, or perhaps all the time. This is not something we need to worry about. It does not mean we are doing it "wrong," it's simply what minds do. As I've mentioned before, the wandering mind actually presents an opportunity to awaken and then consciously bring the attention back to the feeling of the breath. More and more, we begin to see that this is the practice, even more than maintaining fixed and concentrated attention on the feeling of the breath.

As the meditation continues, through the diligent attention to the breath, and the choice to return back to the breath when the mind wanders, we develop a concentrated mind that can pay attention to things for sustained periods of time. Then the magic happens. As we continue to sit, and sensory experiences and events arise, we can see more clearly how the mind colors each and every one of those experiences with thoughts. The thoughts could take the form of merely identifying the experience and naming it. Or there may be preferences that arise about liking or not liking this or that experience. We might even go into storytelling mode and watch the mind make up fantastic tales about the most mundane sensory event.

So we just sit and watch all this happening with a sense of awe; investigating it with friendly curiosity, and seeing our habitual tendencies of mind that might get missed during our busy daily life on automatic pilot mode. We purposely allow the mind to have its thoughts about the event, and then we follow it for a while to see which neuronal pathway it likes to take. 

After a short while of accompanying the mind down this habitual pathway, we disengage from it, let it be, and then return again to the feeling of the breath to reconnect with the present moment through a sensory reality.

In this way, the power of the wandering mind can be harnessed and utilized for our enlightenment. It's basically the same way that a river can be harnessed to turn the wheel of the mill to grind the wheat into flour, or to turn a turbine that creates electricity. The wandering mind, like all things that happen to us in our life, provides grist for our own psychic mill.


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