By EKNATH EASWARAN
First and foremost comes meditation, because through meditation we can actually lay our hands on the machinery of the mind. This is imperative, for the mind-factory is already in full production: daytime, swing shift, even graveyard. Thoughts love to work through the weekend without pay, and they never call a strike. “We just get into a rhythm,” they would explain, “and we can’t stop.” With this powerful internal machinery always running, it is crucial to have a supervisor on the job.
When you sit quietly every morning with your eyes closed, concentrating completely on words (or mantra) that embody your highest ideals, you are giving your mind, thoughts of the purest quality to work with during the day.
If this sounds easy, try it. The whole factory will rebel. For a long, long time you will feed the words in and the machines will spit them right back at you. The mind will insist on producing its own things, thinking its own thoughts: everything from little distractions (such as what you need to do that day) up to major crisis, when you cannot get the mind out of a vicious circle of hostility or craving.
Somehow, in our modern civilization, we have acquired the idea that the mind is working best when it runs at top speed. Yet this is not true even with assembly-line production. A racing mind lacks time even to finish a thought, let alone to check on quality. It just churns out whatever it can, the more the better, and the faster it runs more likely it is to overheat, jam, and even shut down and have to be restarted. Slowing down the mind means not only achieving better quality, but actually getting more done. A smooth-running flow of thought saves a lot of wear and tear on the nervous system, which means more vitality and resilience in the face of stress.
Until you experience it, this may sound like the kind of most thoughts is neither joyful nor necessary. It took me many years of meditating to make this discovery. Anxious thoughts – who needs them? Worry – better off without it. Resentments – why ask? Quite a host of our troubles, if you stop to think about it, are due to thinking too much. Just by watching your mind –the thoughts subside gradually.
Let me hasten to make clear that I am not saying we should throw the machinery of the mind away. I have been meditating for decades, and I assure you, my mind has never functioned better. But I use it when I want to; it does not use me. My thoughts have to come by invitation. Most thoughts are gatecrashers, you see; that is my objection to them. And negative emotions like anger and resentment not only come without an invitation, they crash the party early and eat up all the food. When the proper guests arrive, the plates are empty, the chairs are upside down, and the place is in chaos. Quality control simply means that when thoughts come you can say, “May I see your invitation?” If they don’t have one, you say, “Excuse me, but this party is not for you.”
Meditation, then, is bringing your attention back to quality thoughts, over and over and over. When distracting thoughts intrude, you simply become aware of them. But don’t try to evaluate each thought that arises while you are meditating; you will find yourself lost in a forest of distractions. Instead, teach your mind that during its period of meditation, it has one job and one job only: to keep to the plans laid out by the Buddha. Anything else, however fascinating, is out of order.
In some ways, training the mind is very much like training a dog. When we take our dog for a walk in the countryside, the moment he sees a calf or a deer he wants to jump the fence and take off after it. We call, “Come back,” and he comes back halfway. But the old pull remains, and as soon as we look the other way, he is off again. We repeat: “Come back!” It may take a dozen patient repetitions, but he finally settles down and trots amiably by our side. It is the same with the mind.
Brooding on memories serves no earthly purpose, and it can go on until your mind is so filled with balloons that there is no room for the joy of living. But through meditation, by withdrawing your attention from distractions, you can train your mind to the point where no memory can upset you or drive you into compulsive action.
This is not amnesia. Your memories are still there in the file if you need them. What is lost is their emotional charge. There is no exaggeration in this. Through many years of practice you can gain such command over your thinking process that if there is a spurt of hostility towards someone, you have only to look at your mind and say “No.”
The hostility will wither. If resentment creeps in you can say “Please leave,” and it will go. That is why, after more than forty years, I still catch myself thinking every day, “There is nothing like meditation!”