Steadying the Mind


The open road is a metaphor for the journeys we take in life. It is perhaps inevitable that, if we remain on that road, we will, as we do with driving, arrive at our destination. It just so happens however, that we like to take our excursions. We slowly drift to the side of the road, and end up on some rough terrain, or get enticed by a few left or right turns here and there. We may even dwell in these places for a while, before we decide to get back on the open road, remembering that we are seeking a certain destination.

The open road can get boring. Focusing our efforts for a long period of time can loses its appeal. We seek excitement. We may even thwart our efforts on purpose, just to seek a way out of the boredom. So how do we maintain our focus?

In meditation, we are practicing staying on the road. We work on steadying the mind, and sit with our boredom, perhaps even bringing a sense of curiosity to it. The mind will drift to the left and to the right, but we keep it centred, balanced. With a raised awareness, we know when we have left the road. With sustained practice, we notice the moment when we begin to drift and bring ourselves back to the centre. This takes little effort. The mind become steady, rested and alert.

Shunryu Suzuki once said, 'If you become too busy and too excited, your mind becomes rough and ragged ... Just continue in your calm, ordinary practice and your character will be built up' (1970: 58). In steadying the mind through practice, we find that we can stick to the road, we can persist in our efforts and maintain our focus. That in itself is an achievement, even the destination itself!

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