When your meditation practice does itself

Sometimes I compare the mind to a cat. Just as it’s in a cat’s nature to wander, it’s in the mind’s nature to wander. But just as it’s in a cat’s nature to come home, it’s also the mind’s nature to come home — to come home to mindfulness.

In a couple of days I have an online meditation course starting that explores a practice called “Just Sitting.” In a way this is different from other meditation practices such as mindfulness of the breathing or where we cultivate kindness or compassion. There’s no specific aim in the Just Sitting practice. Strictly speaking we’re not even trying to be mindful!

This might make this form of meditation seem pointless. After all, if you’ve meditated at all you’re probably very aware of how much the mind wanders and how much work seems to be involved in bringing your attention back to your object of attention, whether that’s the sensations of the breathing or a person you’re cultivating kindness for. You may wonder: if you don’t make an effort to be mindful, wouldn’t you just sit there in a distracted state and end up wasting your time?

It’s not like that at all!

Of course, as with any meditation practice, when you’re Just Sitting there are times when mindfulness is just absent and the mind wanders. But the interesting thing is that the mind always finds its own way home.

You’ve probably noticed many times how although your intention may be to remain mindful of the breathing, for example, your mind gets distracted without you deciding that it’s going to go wandering. Unmindfulness just happens. You don’t have to decide that’s what your mind is going to do.

But have you ever noticed that your mind always brings itself back to mindful awareness again? For every time that distraction happens, there is a time that mindfulness happens. It’s a one-to-one correspondence. And you never “decide” to come back to mindful awareness, do you? Mindfulness just happens. You don’t have to decide that’s what your mind is going to do. One moment you’re daydreaming and the next you’re aware that the daydream has ended, you have mindful awareness, and you return to your original intention. Your mind knows how to do this, and you have nothing to do with it!

Often when the mind has come home like this, we feel disappointed that it’s been wandering, or we feel it’s time to knuckle down and get back to practicing again. But neither of these things is very helpful.

If your cat was to walk through the door after an absence and you were to yell at it or try to force it to sit in one place it would probably head straight out of the door again.

If you were to welcome your cat home warmly and give it time and space to settle in, it would eventually find a place to sit quietly and be at peace. So what if your attitude was to warmly welcome when the mind has — quite spontaneously and with no effort on your part — found its way home again? What if you were to feel a sense of gratitude, and happiness, and even wonder? Perhaps your mind, just like a home-coming cat, would settle down more quickly?

At first we’ll probably think about welcoming the mind home as something we do in meditation. But in time we may come to appreciate that warmth and appreciation too are qualities that spontaneously arise. Just as our attention spontaneously comes home, so warmth and appreciation spontaneously appear to welcome it. And we find that there’s now less sense of us actually having to do anything in meditation. Meditation is no longer work. Our meditation practice is doing itself. The mind has come home, and is at peace.

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13 Comments. Leave new

  • What a beautiful analogy! :)

    Reply
  • Cherise Vallet
    May 14, 2018 8:03 pm

    Thanks for this lovely analogy… very helpful to think of. I have meditated for a long time and although I am pretty at ease with the way my mind wanders, somehow there is always a background disappointment that… ‘darn, I’ve wandered again!’. I actually love sitting and letting my mind do what it wants to do, and then settling, like a butterfly on a delicately poised flower petal, back into this moment for a little spell. I will picture a warm fluffy cat returning to me in my next meditation!

    Reply
  • ?raddhamanas
    May 12, 2018 12:56 pm

    I really found this helpful, Bodhipak?a! I’m also impressed and inspired in all the work you put into Wildmind. It’s a great way of being “a hand of Avalokitesvara”!

    Thank you!
    ?raddhamanas

    Reply
  • Thanks…this is a really helpful explanation … love the cat analogy!

    Reply
  • Bodhipaksa, I’m experiencing lots of stresses in life currently from personal relationships to academia to finances to my efforts to be “perfect” (although I know that All is perfect) Are my desires to escape just wanderings of the mind that I must sit and allow pass?
    How does one know their purpose? Their innate gifts that only they have to offer in Service?

    Reply
    • Hi, Gretchen.

      I don’t know about All Being Perfect. The Buddha placed a lot of emphasis on recognizing that there is a lot of suffering in the world and in our lives, and on doing what we can to deal with that situation.

      Your desires to escape suffering are, in that context, entirely natural. In fact that’s what gets us involved in spiritual seeking in the first place. We need to learn what within us causes us to suffer and what brings peace. That’s a life’s work, but to start it we need to learn to sit and be with ourselves, gently, kindly, but persistently.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • Marcia Wiesner
    May 9, 2018 11:54 am

    This is a wonderful analogy. I remember the moment when I first felt “All these thoughts are okay!” during meditation. Breakthrough. Always need reinforcement to be kind to the mind, and the cat will come with me today.

    Reply
  • Larry Fasnacht
    May 9, 2018 11:39 am

    …but what??? your article just stops with the word “but”. Clearly you meant there to be more.

    Also I have noticed exactly what you talk about. That’s why I don’t believe there is such a thing as free will. At least not the kind that we think we have. When I’m really in the groove, it become quite obvious to me that “I” (whatever that is) doesn’t have any control over what thoughts come or go, but

    Reply
    • It wasn’t that something was missing but that there was something extra! The “meditation is no longer work” thing was covered a couple of sentences earlier.

      I don’t think there’s such a thing as conscious free will. I don’t think there is a conscious mind that makes decisions. I think decisions are made unconsciously and then we become aware of them. So in that respect I think free will — conscious free will — is an illusion. The choices that are being made can never be entirely free, since there are always limited options. I suspect that there is real choice taking place however. I don’t think we’re entirely preprogrammed.

      Reply
  • A Part of your text is missing.

    Reply
  • Navin Mistry
    May 9, 2018 5:52 am

    ….but what???

    Reply

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