As we begin the practice of meditation, we may discover that our minds don’t remain still for a single moment. We may then form the opinion that meditation is not beneficial, because it apparently creates more agitation, or we may come to the conclusion that we are just not capable of meditating.
The fact is that our minds are constantly agitated, even if our everyday distraction does not generally allow us to perceive the quantity and chaotic nature of our thoughts. When we sit down to meditate, we simply become aware —perhaps for the first time— of how many thoughts are constantly arising in the mind.
Far from being a ‘failure’ to meditate, the awareness of the cascading thoughts constitutes the first level of meditation. Noticing the presence of these thoughts is both unavoidable and necessary. Without confronting the scattered condition of the mind, we cannot develop the ability to focus.
To maintain a regular sitting practice, we must understand that there are various levels of meditation, starting with that in which thoughts appear like a raging waterfall, which is technically called ‘Placement’, through various levels of decreasing agitation, until we finally reach a state of Equanimity, or ‘Natural Placement without Exertion’.
If we expect to attain profound meditation immediately, we will be disappointed. But if we can slowly detect progress along this continuum (from Placement to Equanimity), we will develop confidence and certainty in the benefits of the practice.
The simplest method of meditation, awareness of breath, is also one of the most powerful. Gently placing our awareness on the breath —without attempting to control or alter it in any way, just noticing the feeling of the air as it enters and leaves the nostrils— we progressively bring order to the disordered mind through nine levels.
Meditation Level: Description: Metaphor
1. Placement: Short-Duration of Attention: Cascading Water
2. Rest: Repeated Short-Duration of Attention: River Rapids
3. Settlement: Interrupted Continuous Placement: Fast River
4. Resolute Settlement: Brief Intrusions to Continuous Placement: Slow River
5. Cultivation: Continuous Placement with Joy & Relaxation: Tranquil River
6. Pacification: Continuous Placement with Infrequent Wandering: Sea with Waves
7. Complete Pacification: Distractions Immediately Reversed: Sea with Small Waves
8. One-Pointedness: Complete Placement with Exertion: Placid Ocean Surface
9. Equanimity: Natural Placement without Exertion: Still Ocean Depths