“I Cannot Calm The Mind!”

kayak21bAs 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 LevelDescriptionMetaphor
1. PlacementShort-Duration of AttentionCascading Water
2. RestRepeated Short-Duration of AttentionRiver Rapids
3. SettlementInterrupted Continuous PlacementFast River
4. Resolute SettlementBrief Intrusions to Continuous PlacementSlow River
5. CultivationContinuous Placement with Joy & RelaxationTranquil River
6. PacificationContinuous Placement with Infrequent WanderingSea with Waves
7. Complete PacificationDistractions Immediately ReversedSea with Small Waves
8. One-PointednessComplete Placement with ExertionPlacid Ocean Surface
9. EquanimityNatural Placement without ExertionStill Ocean Depths

About Tashi Nyima

I am a Dharma student, and aspire to be a companion on the path. I trust that these texts can offer a general approach and basic tools for practicing the Buddha's way to enlightenment. ||| Soy un estudiante del Dharma, y aspiro a ser un compañero en el sendero. Espero que estos textos ofrezcan a algunos un mapa general y herramientas básicas para la práctica del sendero a la iluminación que nos ofrece el Buda.
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4 Responses to “I Cannot Calm The Mind!”

  1. Bobbie Perkins says:

    Thank you so much, Tashi! This post is very helpful to me both personally & for use in the meditation workshops I facilitate.

  2. Susan Granade says:

    I am glad you are addressing the practice of meditation. In one of the Mobile sessions, you mentioned that the reason to meditate is not necessarily that promoted in popular culture. I got the impression–and I may have been mistaken–that during meditation, ultimately, we are to be reflecting upon how well we are living Buddhist principles. In other words, meditation is not for stress reduction, although that may be a by-product, but to keep before us our goals. If I am not right, maybe some of your future posts will clear up my misconception.

    • Tashi Nyima says:

      Thank you. We meditate to become (re)acquainted with peace, which is our natural state. There is a difference between contemplation, in which we reflect on the Way, and meditation, in which we just practice patience. Neither is meant to help us “escape” or have “experiences”. We practice so that we can bring peace and clarity to our everyday life.

  3. Susan Granade says:

    Thank you so much. That really clears things up for me!

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