Slowing Down the Mind – Practicing Meditation (Part 1)
A mind that is fast is sick; A mind that is slow is sound; A
mind that is still is divine
(Mehr Baba, an Indian sage)
Our mind is like a race car. Both are well designed and sophisticated machines. However, the similarity ends there. A race car is driven by a driver who is a trained expert on handling the complex machine. The mind, unlike a race car, resides right within us and we, as its master, neither know how to control it nor do we take efforts to learn it. We let our minds run in every direction it wants to. Also, at rare moments, when we try to control it, it refuses to obey us. Hence, our mind is constantly flooded with fragmented thoughts. Many of these thoughts make us tense and unbalanced. The tense and unbalanced condition affects not only our physical conditions but, also, our conduct and character.
Let us take an example. John is getting ready to leave to work; he is having his breakfast. John’s mind reminds him that today, he needs to go by his daughter’s elementary school for a parent-teacher meeting. “I must ask Steve, my supervisor, for two hours of permission.” The name Steve sends his mind in a different direction. “Steve is very insensitive. Last week, in the presence of my colleagues, he blasted me for not meeting the Houston area sales target”. Houston triggers thoughts of Texas. “CNN reports that Texas is having an influx of people crossing through El Paso.”, El Paso prompts John to remember his college-mate, Carlos. “I wonder where Carlos is living now?” And, these disparate thoughts keep on and on. These series of disparate thoughts has its downside. John, while mechanically eating his breakfast, has no idea what he is eating; his coffee is already cold; he is agitated over his boss and work-issues. While nodding his head mechanically, John pays no attention to what five-year-old daughter, Jenny, is excitedly talking to him about her school and friends. Eventually, he completes his breakfast, rushes to his car, drives off, leaving his wallet at home.
The example of John’s thought series is not unique; it is equally reflective of our own minds. This hopping of our mind from one stream of thought to another, without paying sufficient attention to any one important issue, never ends. Consequently, we are agitated while accomplishing very little. What should we do? Take efforts to slow the mind and make it focus on one series of thought at a time, to be one-pointed. How do you do that? You cannot simply order your mind, “keep steady; do not wander from thought to thought.” The mind will just laugh at you and ignore you. As St. Augustine, the philosopher, expressed, “When I tell my hand to do something, it does it. Why does not my mind do what I ask it to?” The answer: because you never trained your mind to obey you.
In part II, we will continue our discussion on training the mind to slow down through meditation.
Dr. Ram S. Sriram