In past newsletters, I have written on how to cultivate a calm, settled mind (Pali: Samatha) through Mindfulness. The object of Mindfulness I have written about has been associated with physical sensation in our bodies like the sensation/movement produced by the in-out movement of our breath or the feeling of relaxation in our bodies/body parts. When practicing with either of these objects (or in fact, any object), the instruction for when the mind wanders is always the same. Gently acknowledge that you have wandered and immediately re-establish your connection with your object. With steady practice, the mind will wander less and less and you will be able to remain on your chosen object for longer and longer periods of time. When this begins to happen consistently, you can choose to move on to develop Concentration (Pali: Jhana) or Insight (Pali: Vipassana) or both!
When you are practicing Mindfulness, thinking is not encouraged. However, thinking WILL still occur even though we don’t wish for it! Classically, the texts say that the thinking or mental state can go in 2 directions. One direction is thoughts about all kinds of things keep popping up and the mind seems like a monkey jumping all over the place. I think most of us are familiar with this one! The other direction is the thinking gets hazy, unclear, depressed and you feel drowsy and sleepy perhaps even falling asleep on your mediation seat. Once again, this may sound very familiar! When a meditation session is dominated by one of these states, some teachers advise that it is best to end the session and to actually start to engage your thinking process.
If you found that your mind was like a sleeping elephant, the texts say you should think about a topic that can brighten, wake-up, cheer-up your mind. For example, you can start a Gratitude Journal and list out how fortunate you are. For example, think about how lucky we are that the soil provides us food, how water hydrates us, how the sun warms us and how the air gives us oxygen to breath. If you found that your mind was more like a monkey, the texts say to think about something that can slightly sedate or decrease the energy of your mind. The topic given is to think about impermanence and how things just don’t last. You can think about how earth erodes, water evaporates, fires get extinguished and winds stop blowing. This may be easier and less jarring than the classic corpse contemplation. For those interested, you can look that one up for yourselves!
So if you find your mental state has a tendency to move more in one direction than the other, try using your thinking to balance it out. Choose the appropriate topic and see if it helps!