We are all familiar with the ache of wanting change to happen but not being quite sure how actually to make it come into fruition. We can probably all also agree that it can be really hard to make change actually happen in our lives, even when it’s a shift that will make life more enjoyable, and add a greater degree of meaning to our lives.
Let’s take prayer for example. I recently had a conversation with a client in recovery about his challenges in incorporating prayer into his daily life. He said, “I know I should, I know my life is better when I do, but I can’t seem to slow down enough to even think to do it”
This is happening all over the place.
So what’s the antidote to our busy minds? It’s called mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is deeply rooted in the idea of the here and the now. It teaches us that we are not our thoughts and through meditation we learn to create space in our minds to be more fully in the present moment.
Mindfulness practice has been important in my own life. When I first began a formal practice in 2007, I was surprised at not only how difficult it was to focus my attention for longer than a moment, but it also brought an awareness to my very self critical inner dialogue. The first several years of my formal sitting practice was extremely difficult and I honestly did not see a direct shift in my life for many years after. What did happen in those first years was that I showed myself I had faith in believing in something that wasn’t immediate relief, that I could show up and meditate day after day and survive the mental turmoil. That takes strength, faith, and resilience. I also became more aware of my thoughts and was slowly training my mind to see the stories I told myself about my life and my world. Years later, I realized that in those first years I was creating a capacity for space within for a greater degree of peace and fulfillment.
The Sakyong Mipham, leader of the Shambala tradition of meditation uses a beautiful metaphor to explain the art of training the mind. He explains that training our minds to create space is like tilling the ground of a garden. It requires time and effort to make the ground soft, malleable, and fertile to cultivate a beautiful crop. We cultivate our minds in the same way, creating space to allow our lives to bloom.
In Turning the Mind into an Ally, Sakyong Mipham writes:
“There is an old saying that bringing Buddhism to a new culture is like bringing a flower and a rock together. The flower represents the potential for compassion and wisdom, clarity and joy to blossom in our life. The rock represents the solidity of a bewildered mind. If we want the flower to take root and grow, we have to work to create the right conditions. The way to do this as individuals is to soften up our hearts, our minds, our lives. True happiness is always available to us, but first we have to create the environment for it to flourish.
We might have a deep aspiration to slow down, to be more compassionate, to be fearless, to live with confidence and dignity, but we’re often not able to accomplish these things because we’re so set in our ways. Our minds seem so inflexible. We’ve been touched by the softness of the flower, but we haven’t figured out how to make a place for it. We may feel that our ability to love or feel compassion is limited, and that’s just the way things are.
The problem for most of us is that we’re trying to grow a flower on a rock. The garden hasn’t been tilled properly. It doesn’t work to just throw some seeds on top of the hard ground and then hope for the flowers to grow. We have to prepare the ground,w which requires effort. First we have to move the rocks and hoe the weeds. Then we haven’t to soften up the earth and create a nice topsoil. This is what we’re doing by learning to peacefully abide in sitting meditation: creating a space for our garden to grow. Then we can cultivate the qualities that will allow us to live our lives in full bloom.”
Questions for Reflection:
– What in this passage resonates most deeply within you?
– What does having a trained mind mean to you?
– In what way does mindfulness and meditation support our spiritual connection and our connection to our higher power?
– List a few specific ways that your can benefit from having a trained mind. What would that look like for you in your life?
On a further note- another great Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg, shares her thoughts in the animated video below about how mindfulness meditation allows us to see the stories in our minds, freeing ourselves from our own thoughts and creating a greater sense of peace and freedom.