Half Moon Day: Meditation I: Be Prepared II

February 14, 2008

 

3. GOOD MINDFULNESS = GOOD CONCENTRATION
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Once, when I was a young monk, I had been involved in some building work (not unusual). This time one of my jobs was to pour the sand, cement and water into the cement mixer to make the concrete. When that was mixed and ready the contents would be poured into a wheelbarrow and then delivered to the place where it was to be used.

On this occasion we were converting one end of the garage into an office. So there I was, pouring all these ingredients into this spinning cement mixer. Now, looking into one of these contraptions for long periods of time can be quite hypnotising. It just spins around and around and the sand and the cement etc. spins around and around inside it, all the time making this ‘Kerrrsssshunk…… kerrrsssshunk…. kerrrsssshunk’ sound. On this particular occasion I didn’t happen to be the most mindful person in the world and so, instead of being fully aware of the simple activity of pouring sand and so on into the cement mixer, and dispassionately observing the contents mixing together, I allowed myself to get slightly hypnotised by the spinning and the Kerrrsssshunking. This went on for some time. Then came the evening meditation session at 8 pm. I sat down and, oh dear. No breath, just ‘Kerrrsssshunk……kerrrsssshunk…. kerrrsssshunk’. Round and round and round my mind went. It was like I was still mixing concrete! And so as I sat down to meditate I became very aware of just how mindless I had been during the day!

And this is the next very important point when it comes to preparing to have good meditation. When we come to sit we become very aware of just how mindful we have been up to that point. If we’ve been all over the place and our mind has been in a galaxy far, far away, then when we sit down and cross our legs, it might take some considerable time and effort to get our mind back from that distant galaxy! If we’ve been really mindful though, then our mind is already there in the present, just waiting to go deeper into the moment. Some people complain that they don’t have the best concentration. Well they should look at how mindful they have been up to that point.

It’s like that great simile of the water jar. Say you have a jar of water that has a layer of sediment at the bottom. If you take hold of that jar and shake it up, the sediment will cloud the water. Our minds are the same. When we constantly think and plan and get wrapped up in the past and the future it’s like we are shaking that jar; the mind, which is inherently clear, becomes clouded and murky. But if we put that jar down and leave it alone then the sediment slowly settles and the water becomes clear. So it is with the mind. When we are mindful of what we are doing in the present moment, for instance looking at a computer screen and reading about mindfulness, and we do not allow the mind to wander about too much, then our minds are quite clear. The sediment of thoughts and plans and regrets and fantasies is not being stirred up. We are firmly in the present, simply aware of what we are doing now. It therefore follows that if we have been mindful in this way and the mind is relatively still and clear, just as with the jar of water, then when we sit down to meditate we do not have to make a huge effort to still the mind.

Now all this takes time and patience. As you become more experienced it takes less time for the mind to settle down when you sit. You may sit down to meditate and within seconds you are already fairly concentrated. This is a natural result of better mindfulness. You may sit and there really are hardly any thoughts. Ajahn Chah could apparently enter very deep states of concentration in just two breaths. And as for the Buddha…… I imagine this expertise is largely due to the quality of mindfulness in that person’s daily activity.

So, if we are mindful in our everyday activity then our concentration will be greatly affected. If you like you can spend a short period doing an exercise in slow motion mindfulness before you sit, as I explained in ‘Mindfulness of the Body’ (below). Just focus on doing a simple activity very slowly and quietly for about twenty minutes before you sit and you’ll find the quality of your sitting meditation will be greatly improved.


Summary

In the last two posts we have looked at how the quality of our meditation depends on how we prepare; and on how we act when we are not meditating.

Your take off is now looking to be exceptionally good. The precepts have made the sturdy and smooth runway; metta has stilled the side winds of aversion; and as we’ve been very mindful up to the point of sitting any fog on the runway has cleared. But there’s one other surefire technique that will really give our meditation some oomf. It is something that we spend a lot of time doing in the monastery; in fact it’s unusual for us not to do it before we practise sitting meditation. When lay people do retreats they too spend a great deal of time doing it.

It’s not drinking tea. It is …..

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The next teaching will be given on:

The Full Moon Day, Thursday, 21st February.

Photos from our recent Thai trip are now in my photo album.

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2 Responses to “Half Moon Day: Meditation I: Be Prepared II”

  1. broe1 said

    Thanks for all the inspiring words and for your wisdom. I love the mind jar analogy and am using it in an exercise teaching children to meditate.

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