Dear Donagh, Thanks for your reply to my question last month and the emails you sent in between. I've spent half an hour meditating every morning for the last month (except Sunday mornings). I found the practical approach a breath of fresh air after all the out-of-the-world things we hear. I found your distinction between method and state clarified the thing a lot. Thank you. I have another question…. I follow the method of concentrating on the breath. But I find that my mind is very busy and it takes ages to get right down to being quiet. I know the answer – concentrate on the breath! But is there some method for doing that more effectively…? George.
Dear George, A method of putting the method into effect: that could go on to infinity! You are right: just concentrate on the breath. Concentrate on it as if you had never drawn breath before - as if no one in the world had ever done so. It’s hard to see something in all its particularity, because we are drunk on language. All language is abstract, except sounds like ouch! and ugh! - if they are language. The word ‘tree’, for example, is supposed to be a concrete noun, according to the grammar books. But can you see how abstract it is? Compared to the tree at my window, it’s an abstraction. Likewise the breath: draw your breath as this breath, not breath in general, or one of a thousand breaths.
See if this helps. There are times when the mind is like a stream, rushing purposefully on its course. But it is often just meandering and sometimes almost stopped. When you are sitting in meditation, facing a wall or whatever, in theory the mind should be stopped. Instead, it seems to keep on moving pointlessly. You see the movement in the dead leaves and twigs floating on the surface - images, memories, scraps of language…. What keeps them still moving? In a word, I think desire keeps them moving. The heart is as addicted to desiring as the mind is to meandering. Even after we have chosen to be where we are, we keep vaguely wishing we were elsewhere, or different, or doing something else, or with someone else…. We keep picturing what could be, rather than sinking into what is. Or, depending on temperament, what should be. That is also a kind of desire. This is the force that keeps the rubbish moving around. The moment you become aware of it, you neutralise it. Or I should say: your very awareness of it neutralises it. When it is not active you have what you might call silence of the heart. There's no silence of the mind if there isn't silence of the heart.
But don’t carry this imagery into meditation with you. Forget about stagnant pools, etc. Imagery is a little less abstract than abstract description, but don't make a business of it. It’s just a way of speaking. When you are sitting in meditation, concentrate on your breath, always this breath, and don’t give up!
Good luck, George,