When we practise mindfulness, we often focus on something, like the breath perhaps, and then watch what happens. When mind wanders off, we gently bring it back again.
Nothing’s gone wrong. No need to beat ourselves up. This is the practise. We get distracted, we notice it, we release and relax and we come back to the breath over and over again.
We are not seeking to stop all thoughts.
The stillness of mind does not arise by striving to stop thinking and pushing away those harmful thoughts. Neither is it kind of blank mental state or bliss in which no thoughts ever arise.
“… the stillness of which we speak is not the stillness of the quiet mind because your mind may not be quiet today. Your body may not be quiet or still. It’s rather the stillness of allowing things to be as they are in this moment.”¹
Can we allow things to be as they are?
Can we allow thoughts to come and go, without reacting to them?
By getting to know our mental habits, and befriending them, we can learn to work with them. We can learn to accept them and let them go, without acting them out.
One teacher uses the metaphor of the waves and the ocean². Thoughts, like waves, arise from the ocean and return back into the ocean. Like the ocean, our awareness is always there, beneath the waves of thought.
Life gets pretty turbulent when we identify with our thoughts. Thoughts are always rising and changing.
But just as the ocean is undisturbed by the waves, the unchanging, pure awareness of mind is always there beneath, and is never disturbed by the thoughts themselves.
This is the natural stability of mind.
This is what we sometimes describe in mindfulness as “bringing mind home.”
Two books on this topic: Mindfulness: Finding Peace In A Frantic World by ¹Mark Williams and ²The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.