Delicate Mind, Kind Minder

©2020 Jason Siff

On many an occasion, when asked whether I believe bringing one’s attention back to the breath constantly is a useful meditation practice, I have replied that I believe the human mind is very delicate, sensitive, and is easily wounded when force is applied to it, even from within. Harsh intentions in meditation lead to inner conflict, struggle, and often times, result in damage. Meditation practices that use “effort, discipline, force” to achieve focused attention on the breath (or any prescribed object of meditation) start from the premise that the mind is unwieldy, immature, unskillful, lacking in concentration. For many people, the messages are similar to what they received in school, that they have to apply discipline to succeed, they must study hard, keep focused, be productive each moment or else they won’t get the top marks. And then, weeks, months, or years later, their minds forget much of what they learned, having moved on in their studies, repeating the same learning process as before. Our education system has primed us to be brutal with our minds in pursuit of learning, so why wouldn’t we gravitate toward meditation practices that employ basically the same methods?

Maybe that explains why many people initially distrust a meditation practice that allows mind wandering, fantasy, drifting, repetitive thinking, immersion in emotions, and all the other so-called distractions of our school days. Open meditation practice is like looking out the classroom window at the tree leaves blowing in the breeze while the teacher is lecturing. It can be embarrassing at times, like forgetting your textbook, or not having done your homework, and being called on to do a report in front of the whole class. And it may seem like you are not getting to the same place as your classmates who are following the discipline religiously, for they appear to be working hard and you feel like you are goofing off. But, when it comes to meditation, the opposite might be true. You are not being lazy, inattentive, or just following your bliss. Rather, you have stepped into a world of greater complexity, diversity, variation, more so than you probably ever imagined, and you are confronted with the prospect of being aware of multiple layers and dynamic patterns of your inner experience, exploring it thoroughly, and learning how to make skillful choices within your meditation sittings.

This is not something that can be taught in a classroom. It is lifelong learning. And, because it originates with a kind, peaceful intention to engage your inner world as it is, the delicate mind blossoms into authentic realizations instead of being conditioned to have experiences that match preconceived ideas.

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