Thinking clearly towards Buddhist enlightenment

by Cynthia Karena, WA Today, April 30, 2014

Perth, Australia -- I first went to Buddhist teachings because I was interested in meditation. My mind seemed unsettled and my thoughts were wandering all over the place. I didn’t want to take drugs to get calm, but the calmest person I knew meditated, so meditation it was.

Breathe in; breathe out. Yeah, I can do this. Feeling good; but I must remember to weed the garden, and I definitely have to send an email to, woops, back to breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing - actually I have to ring a friend, and what did she mean when she said….. What rubbish is going on in my head? I thought meditation was supposed to settle the mind, not make it an uncontrollable swirling mess.

But that’s what meditation does - because my mind is calming down, it is revealing all my wandering thoughts. Meditation is giving me the space to see my already undisciplined mind. The idea is to not follow the thread of each thought, but get back to focusing on the breath.

My Buddhist teacher says that meditating regularly will eventually settle and calm the mind by preventing it from becoming distracted and scattered by thoughts. When our mind is not overwhelmed with wandering thoughts, we are more at ease with the world.

He says our distress and anxiety is caused by allowing our minds to be completely immersed in distractions and focused externally, and that our inner turmoil will continue if we allow our minds to be distracted in this way.

Meditation will calm our mind, but it is so much more than that. According to Buddhism, the goal of meditation is to liberate the mind from ignorance and suffering. Once the mind is calm, we can more efficiently cultivate positive qualities such as patience, love, compassion, and wisdom.

Just as exercise is used to train the body, meditation can be used to train the mind to be in a more positive state. We work on our bodies, why not work on our mind to make it the best it can be?

The idea of meditating regularly is to transform the mind on a subtle level so we have increased concentration and clarity.

My teacher says to meditate every day, no matter how briefly, so it becomes a habit. But as soon as I open my email I’m gone for the day. He told me the other week to just meditate first thing, before breakfast, before having a shower. I’m OK most mornings now, but sometimes I cheat and check my emails on my phone first. Maybe I should just get up 15 minutes earlier. Now there’s a thought worth following.

Cynthia Karena is a freelance journalist and Buddhist.