Meditation clears mind

BY JULIAN CHENDER, The Phoenix Online, February 28, 2008

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania (USA) -- The great meditation teacher Chögyam Trungpa told me “the mind is like a crazy monkey, which leaps about and never stays in one place. It is completely restless and constantly paranoid about its surroundings. The training, or the meditation practice, is a way to catch the monkey, to begin with. That is the starting point.”

I began meditating regularly when I was a junior in high school. I wanted to catch the monkey, to train my mind. I found that through meditation, I could work with my mind and make friends with myself. When I came to Swarthmore, I wanted to continue my practice, so I was excited to see that the Student Wellness Committee had some meditation events. Rebekah Rosenfeld ’07, Sunjay Barton ’09 and I turned this into the Swarthmore Sitting Group, which Sunjay and I now run.

The Swarthmore Sitting Group brings the teachings of meditation to the Swarthmore community. One meditation teacher I spoke to, Sakyong Mipham, noted that “meditation is a way to make the mind more stable and clear. From this point of view, meditation is not purely a Buddhist practice; it’s a practice that anyone can do … If we want to undo confusion, we’re going to have to be responsible for learning what our own mind is and how it works, no matter what beliefs we hold.”

Catching the monkey has no religious affiliation and the Swarthmore Sitting Group is completely secular. Meditation is not a religious practice; it is just a way to work with one’s mind that anyone can do.

The Sanskrit word for meditation, shamatha, means “peacefully abiding.” The mind is inherently “joyous, calm and very clear.” When we meditate, we train the mind to rest in this natural state. “In peaceful abiding, we ground our mind in the present moment,” Mipham said. “We place our mind on the breath and practice keeping it there. We notice when thoughts and emotions distract us, and train in continually returning our mind to the breath … In the process, we get to know how our mind works.”

He added, “We see that wherever the mind is abiding — in anger, in desire, in jealousy, or in peace — that is where we also are abiding. We begin to see that we have a choice in the matter: we do not have to act at the whim of every thought. We can abide peacefully. Meditation is a way to slow down and see how our mind works.”

The Swarthmore Sitting Group meets three times a week (Wednesdays at 9 p.m., Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4:30 p.m., all in Kohlberg 226). People attend different meetings according to their schedules. In each meeting we briefly review the meditation technique. We then meditate for ten minutes, after which we briefly stretch. Then we meditate for ten minutes more. At this point, we have a brief discussion about our experiences with meditation and we try to answer each other’s questions. In the end, each meeting lasts about half an hour.

One reason to meditate might be that we’re tired of the crazy monkey mind. We’re fed up with the confusion, stress, and fear.

“Many of us are slaves to our own minds,” writes Mipham in his national bestseller “Turning the Mind into an Ally,” “Our own mind is our worst enemy. We try to focus, and our mind wanders off. We try to keep stress at bay, but anxiety keeps us awake at night. We try to be good to the people we love, but then we forget and put ourselves first … We’re left feeling helpless and discouraged.”

Through meditation, however, we can get in touch with the joy, clarity and stability that exist beneath the cloud of bewilderment. In peacefully abiding, we can train our minds to rest here, in this natural state. We have a choice between confusion and clarity, and meditation is a vehicle through which one fully realizes this.