To train the mind is like training the body. Both are able to become stronger with practice.
Words used in Sanskrit for “mind” are understood differently than a contemporary “western” idea of mind. Words meaning “mind” in Sanskrit will locate the mind in the chest area, in the area we might call the heart. So mind is understood in a vast or large sense to mean “that which knows”.
The mind knows in many different ways. There is conceptual knowing. Information from the external sensory perceptions – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, touch - is received by the conceptual mind, which is felt to be located in the head. This mind is considered to be a sense organ, like eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and touch. It is intimately related to the process of receiving information from the external sensory perceptions and filtering that information in order that it can be understood in an intellectual way. There are many, many ways of knowing that are part of the human experience. This includes intellectual or conceptual knowledge, but it is not limited to intellectual or conceptual knowledge.
The way in which the mind knows can be strengthened and trained in a way which is very similar to strengthening and training of the body. What is the difference between mind and body? Where does the body begin? Where does the mind begin? Can you identify a difference between the two? Ways of knowing that are part of mind are ways of knowing that are contained within the body. The body’s knowing – such as intuition, instinct or feeling - is part of mind.
There are two basic abilities of the mind which are strengthened and refined through mindfulness practice generally, and through meditation practice specifically. The first of these is the ability of the mind to rest on a single object of focus. This is trained through the meditation practice known in Sanskrit as “shamatha”. Many of the world's contemplative traditions have a similar practice called by names in their own languages and described in ways consistent with their own traditions.
When the mind is given a single object of focus where it can rest and relax, it is able to more fluidly access the strength of deeper qualities of the mind which are beyond the limitations of the conceptual framework, beyond the patterns of thinking of the thinking or conceptual mind.
When it accesses these deeper qualities of mind, gradually it will grow to become stable. With that stability is a tremendous strength. Athletes who train the body may understand that the mind can place limitations which prohibit the body from performing as it might be able to otherwise perform. The mind is often the limiting factor, and not the physical condition of the body itself. Performance in other areas – career, business, and even also in relationship - can be limited by limits of the mind, if it is not able to move in the world from the place of deep strength which is accessed by training to rest on a single object of focus.
Sometimes this object of focus is the repetition of sound, such as repetition of a mantra or a prayer. Sometimes the object of focus is visual, such as a picture or a candle. Often the object of focus is the breath as it moves in and out of the body. Allowing the mind to rest on the sensation of the breath as it comes into and out of the body trains the mind in this ability to rest on a single object of focus. It also permits the mind and body to come into greater synchronicity or alignment. It allows the mind to gradually more deeply relax into the physical container which is the body grounded on the earth. It is deeply soothing. Many find it is associated with an experience of stress reduction.
The second strength of the mind that is trained through mindfulness or meditation practice is the ability for peripheral or atmospheric awareness. This awareness relates to the outside world. This awareness relates to the inside world. It is trained by the aspect of the meditation practice known as “vipashyana”.
The basic awareness training is the awareness to observe when the mind has moved away from its object of focus. When the mind has moved away from its object of focus - into the past, into the future - awareness identifies the mind is no longer resting with the feeling of the breath. Awareness permits the attention - or awareness - to return to the experience of physical sensation of breath.
Over time, our awareness permits recognition that the thinking patterns happening inside the mind are happening as patterns. Information received by the sense organs is filtered by the conceptional or thinking mind. The conceptual or thinking mind filters using concepts. These general concepts are constructed and conditioned as a result of past experience. This conditioning and construction of the general concepts used by the mind to filter specific information means that the thinking patterns happen as patterns. When the mind recognizes thinking is taking place, it can notice this and simply return attention to the breath.
Over time the atmospheric awareness inside, and the atmospheric awareness outside, becomes honed like a well forged sword. It will be able to cut through much confusion and lead towards freedom from suffering.
When the mind is able to touch into its deep stability and strength, and this is accompanied by sharp awareness, these two strengthens together permit the mind to be able to work more powerfully with situations as they arise wherever the mind finds itself: in sport, in business, in personal relationships, in the classroom.
A strong stable mind capable of awareness and insight is trained in the way that a strong flexible body capable of endurance and muscular strength is trained. Train them together. It creates a strong ,flexible, aware, engaged, alive person able to better move in the world with joy.
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Wishing you joy,