This mind is like a fish out of water that thrashes and throws itself about, its thoughts following each of its cravings. Such a mind is unsteady, attracted here, there, and everywhere. How good to contain it and know the happiness of freedom.
Yet, how unruly still; how subtle the delusion of the haphazard thoughts. To calm them is the true way of happiness.
Putting a bridle on the wandering mind, single-mindedly the practitioner restrains her thoughts. She contains their darting waywardness and finds peace.
With the fetishization and hyper-valuation of asana (the postural practice of yoga) in the contemporary “yoga community” it seems many, if not most, practitioners haven’t been told that the original meaning of yoga; the original practice of yoga was meditation, often described as a bridling or yoking of the mind. In fact, the word yoke is a cognate of the Sanskrit yoga, both tracing back to the Proto-Indo-European word yeug meaning “join.”
Now there have been many yoga practitioners who have taken this teaching about yoking the mind to go as far as saying that the best outcome would be to stop all thinking. In fact, many have translated the second aphorism of The Yoga-Sutra in just this way: “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness.” Even many buddhist yogis see deep states of non-conitive samadhi as some kind of end-goal and this has led to a pernicious anti-intellectualism in much popular, contemporary Buddhism and yoga.
However, intellectual rigor, study, and debate were always part of the various yoga traditions and it may be helpful to remember that “right thinking” is, after-all, the second of the eight limbs of the noble eightfold path of yoga practice taught by the Buddha.
We can take this teaching from the Dhammapada as pointing out that most of the thoughts that arise throughout our day are indeed of a scattered, wasteful, conditioned pattern of a mostly not very useful nature. Through meditation, in particular satipatthana or mindfulness-meditation, we can become more intimately familiar with our thinking so that we can contain the wasteful thinking in order to create a more stable and calm mind with which thinking can become more directed, skillful and creative.
It’s not too farfetched to say that the world is in the shape it is because very few ever get a chance to actually stop and investigate the nature of the mind. And so, people are mastered by their thoughts instead of them mastering their thoughts. The first important step in containing the mind is to first take an honest look at the mind that is unrestrained and untrained. When we take the time to do this, we can begin to see how much of the thinking that goes on causes us – and those around us – so much suffering. Training the mind, we can begin to create the peace in the world we say we seek.
All we need is to begin. Sit down comfortably in a suitable space where you won't be interrupted and just rest your attention on your breath. Soon enough, the mind will wander. Gently, free of adding any agitation or self-criticism, bring your attention back to your breath. And do this every time you mind wanders. Seeing how much the mind wanders is the first insight. Later, you can begin an inquiry into what kinds of things your mind wanders to. And all the while, each time you gently guide your attention back to the breath, you are cultivating the yoking skill of concentration.
Why not try it now?