Do not prolong the past.
Do not beckon the future.
Rest in cognitive lucidity free from concepts.
The first step to the practice of calm abiding, or shamatha, is to tame or pacify the mind.
In our current state we have this mind that never sits still. We are constantly replaying past events and interactions, needlessly caught up in future plans and speculation. Whenever we do find a moment of freedom in our busy and stressful life, usually the first thing we do is turn on the TV or hop on the internet and mindlessly get caught up in a moments entertainment.
It is a strange thing, but we are often so caught up in action and doing, that when we choose to rest or meditate we find a lot of anxiousness. We spend so much of our time caught up in our heads that when we sit down to meditate we have a steady stream of thoughts and plans pulling us off into some far off dreamscape.
When we sit in meditation we need to drop the baggage and armor that we have been carrying through the day. We need to embrace an open presence that doesn't turn away from the rawness of the present moment.
So the first step is to calm this monkey mind, this mind that is compelled to jump from one object to the next in its unceasing restlessness. In this regard it is important to understand how the mind works. The Buddha's teachings break down the mind, or what we normally consider mind, into eight different aspects.
Five sense consciousnesses- eye, ear, nose, mouth and touch
Conceptual consciousness- responsible for the infinite variety of thoughts, opinions and value judgements
Afflicted consciousness- our habitual tendencies, neuroses, predominant mental states like anger, jealousy and lust
Basis-of-all consciousness- the foundational stream consciousness, the subtle consciousness that carries through our whole life, and connects life to life.
The five sense consciousnesses simply experience their subject matter, they do not interpret, judge, express delight or contempt for whatever is appearing. That is what the sixth, conceptual consciousness excels in. It is this consciousness, this reactionary and fixated aspect of our minds that we are trying to calm and pacify.
We have several methods that we can use to accomplish this task of calming the mind. The two that we taught in the meditation class were:
1) Resting with a conceptual focus (the white thigle in the palm of the hands)
2) Resting in the natural state without a conceptual focus
The purpose of both techniques is to develop a state of natural rest. This is not a state that is a lifeless and dull nothingness. Rather it is an open, calm lucidity like that of a perfectly pristine ocean during the daytime. To rest in that state of cognitive lucidity free from concepts, that is how we approach the practice of meditation and calm abiding.
That is how we grasp the mind that previously has not been grasped. That is the start of the journey, and the destination has never been too far away.
Weekly challenge: Start meditating, today. Set aside five minutes of your day to establishing your ground. Simply rest in the present moment for a few minutes each day, and you will find that the practice naturally develops on its own. You will find that in the wake of your previous thoughts and emotions, there is an open clarity that is beyond description.