“The next basis for success is persistence. You really stick with it, not just while you’re sitting here with your eyes closed, but you also want to learn how to be familiar with how the breath energy feels as you walk around, as you stand, as you lie down. When you talk with other people, can you stay in touch with how the breath energy in the body feels? Because when we talk about “breath,” it’s not just the air coming in and out of the lungs, it’s the energy throughout the body that permeates through all the nerves. You want to get more and more sensitive to those sensations of subtle energies and learn how to stick with them.
“Make this your default mode: that you’re going to stay centered right here. This gives you a good foundation as you go through the day. It’s not just one more thing to add on top of what you’re already doing. It’s actually a solid center from which you can deal with all your other duties and responsibilities as you go out into the world. We all need this center here because otherwise we get blown around by the slightest breeze. So stick with it, stick with it, stick with it. Learn how to pace yourself so you can put in just the right amount of effort that you can maintain.”
“When the mind starts grasping at things and making a big deal out of them, you have to stop it. It will argue with you, but you have to put your foot down. Stay in the middle as the mind comes and goes. Put sensual indulgence away to one side. Put self-torment away to the other side. Love to one side, hate to the other side. Happiness to one side, suffering to the other side. Remain in the middle without letting the mind go in either direction.”
“Wherever you are still inept, wherever you are still lacking, that’s where you must apply yourself. If you haven’t yet cracked it don’t give up. Having finished with one thing you get stuck on another, so persist with it until you crack it, don’t let up. Don’t be content until it’s finished. Put all your attention on that point. While sitting, lying down or walking, watch right there.”
~Ajahn Chah (from “Food for the Heart,” pp. 94-95)
“Discipline” is a difficult word for most of us. It conjures up images of somebody standing over you with a stick, telling you that you’re wrong. But self-discipline is different. It’s the skill of seeing through the hollow shouting of your own impulses and piercing their secret. They have no power over you. It’s all a show, a deception. Your urges scream and bluster at you; they cajole; they coax; they threaten; but they really carry no stick at all. You give in out of habit. You give in because you never really bother to look beyond the threat. It is all empty back there.
There is only one way to learn this lesson, though. The words on this page won’t do it. But look within and watch the stuff coming up—restlessness, anxiety, impatience, pain—just watch it come up and don’t get involved. Much to your surprise, it will simply go away. It rises, it passes away. As simple as that. There is another word for self-discipline. It is patience.”
“RECOGNIZING PAST TURMOILS and future rhapsodies as projections of our mind prevents us from getting stuck in them. Just as the face in the mirror is not a real face, the objects of our memories and daydreams are likewise unreal. They are not happening now; they are simply mental images flickering in the mind.
“Reflecting on the value of our precious human life also minimizes our habit of ruminating. Our wondrous potential becomes clear, and the rarity and value of the present opportunity shines forth. Who wants to ruminate about the past and future when we can do so much good and progress spiritually in the present?
“One counteracting force that works well for me is realizing that all these ruminations star Me, Center of the Universe. All the stories, all the tragedies, comedies, and dramas all revolve around one person, who is clearly the most important one in all existence, Me. Just acknowledging the power of the mind to condense the universe into Me shows me the stupidity of my ruminations. There is a huge universe with countless sentient beings in it, each of them wanting happiness and not wanting suffering just as intensely as I do. Yet, my self-centered mind forgets them and focuses on Me. To boot, it doesn’t even really focus on Me, it spins around My past and future, neither of which exist now. Seeing this, my self-centeredness evaporates, as I simply cannot justify worrying about only myself with everything that is going on in the universe.
“The most powerful counteracting force is the wisdom realizing there is no concrete Me to start with. Just who are all these thoughts spinning around? Who is having all these ruminations? When we search we cannot find a truly existent Me anywhere. Just as there is no concrete Me to be found on or in this carpet, there is no concrete Me to be found in this body and mind. Both are equally empty of a truly existent person who exists under her own power.
“With this understanding, the mind relaxes. The ruminations cease, and with wisdom and compassion, the Me that exists by being merely labeled in dependence on the body and mind can spread joy in the world.”
As the Buddha taught: “I do not see any quality by which the skillful arises and the unskillful subsides than friendship with admirable people… [From our teachers] I learn what is beautiful in the beginning, the middle and the end, surpassingly pure. The spiritual life is one of mutual dependence, for together we can cross over the flood of ignorance.”
In our spiritual transformation we will make mistakes; after such errors there’s no role for self-judgment or self-punishment; the process is simply one of learning from mistakes and returning to practice with renewed conviction. We’re on a journey that requires perseverance and forgiveness, of myself and others.
“A frequent image in meditation instructions is that all you have to do is turn on a light and the darkness goes away. No matter how many eons the darkness has reigned, all you have to do is turn on the light once and that’s the end of the darkness. All you have to do is work on how you’re perceiving things in the present moment and when things finally click, you don’t have to worry about what other people tell you, you don’t have to worry about the world, you don’t have to worry about the self, you don’t have to worry about what you’ve done in the past, for you’ve learned a new habit, you’ve developed a new skill. And the development of that new skill changes everything.”
Sometimes people think the point of meditation is to stop thinking— to have a silent mind. This does happen occasionally, but it is not necessarily the point of meditation. Thoughts are an important part of life, and mindfulness practice is not supposed to be a struggle against them. We can benefit more by being friends with our thoughts than by regarding them as unfortunate distractions. In mindfulness, we are not stopping thoughts as much as overcoming any preoccupation we have with them. However, mindfulness is not thinking about things, either. It is a non-discursive observation of our life in all its aspects.
In those moments when thinking predominates, mindfulness is the clear and silent awareness that we are thinking. A piece of advice I found helpful and relaxing was when someone said, “For the purpose of meditation, nothing is particularly worth thinking about.” Thoughts can come and go as they wish, and the meditator does not need to become involved with them. We are not interested in engaging in the content of our thoughts. Mindfulness of thinking is simply recognizing that we are thinking.
In meditation, when thoughts are subtle and in the background, or when random thoughts pull us away from awareness of the present, all we have to do is resume mindfulness of breathing. However, when our preoccupation with thoughts is stronger than our ability to let go of them easily, then we direct mindfulness to being clearly aware that thinking is occurring. Strong bouts of thinking are fuelled largely by identification and preoccupation with thoughts. By clearly observing our thinking, we step outside the field of identification. Thinking will usually then soften to a calm and unobtrusive stream.
“We’re creating our lives. And even when the mind seems to be simply spinning its wheels, it’s not just idly spinning its wheels. It’s creating new states of being, new possibilities — some of which are good, some of which are not so good. You have to keep that principle always in mind as you’re meditating. You’re not simply here innocently watching what’s going on without any responsibility for what you’re experiencing. You’re responsible for your experiences — through your actions in the past and in the present moment. On the one hand, this sounds a little onerous because nobody likes to take responsibility. On the other hand, though, it’s empowering. If you don’t like the present moment, you can create a new present moment because the opportunities to do so are endless.”
When this mind is clear and bright And is not covered over, Then you are not very different From the sages. If you allow no wavering From this clarity, and do not Let it change, And do not cling to it, And do not neglect it: This is learning. Just protect it all the time And do not damage its clarity.
“You can’t ever get everything you want. It is impossible. Luckily, there is another option. You can learn to control your mind, to step outside of the endless cycle of desire and aversion. You can learn not to want what you want, to recognize desires but not be controlled by them. This does not mean that you lie down on the road and invite everybody to walk all over you. It means that you continue to live a very normal-looking life, but live from a whole new viewpoint. You do the things that a person must do, but you are free from that obsessive, compulsive drivenness of your own desires. You want something, but you don’t need to chase after it. You fear something, but you don’t need to stand there quaking in your boots. This sort of mental cultivation is very difficult. It takes years. But trying to control everything is impossible; the difficult is preferable to the impossible.”