Have you ever had the pleasure of teaching a puppy to sit and stay? They don’t. Well, not right away. You can plop them down and they immediately get up to wander, sniff, explore, and play. You do not expect them to listen on the first try, but you resolve yourself to do it over and over. You plop them down in one place, ‘stay’. They wander. You bring them back over and over in a session and a little bit each day.
The puppy is like our mind when we practice meditation. It takes more than one try. It takes patients, persistence, kindness and understanding. It takes repetition to bring the mind back as we do when the pup wanders away from where we want him to sit. It takes a little bit of practice everyday, some days are better than others, we aim to approach it with the same patients, persistence, kindness and understanding as we learn something new just as the puppy does. Who knows how long it will take, but eventually, like the pup, the mind stays put as asked.
In meditation this coming back is referred to as placement. We place our mind, that is to say we focus the mind on one thing asking it to ‘stay’. When it wanders we practice continuous placement, and repeated placement -continuously and repeatedly brining it back- the same approach as the curious wandering puppy. We, like the pup, eventually get it. Progressing to the next level of close placement where we can get the mind to ‘stay’ as was asked right from the start of the practice. But, it takes practice.
In traditional meditation practice the breath is the anchor to hold our puppy mind in place. We ask the mind to ‘stay’ on the breath. During a triathlon I did on this day I am writing, I was witnessing my puppy mind as I ran. Though running is not meditation, I can use the mind of meditation to help me on the run. It was a challenge. but I feel overall a practice.
As I ran I had the peak sensation from the energy output from the body. With the little meditation practice I have done thus far in my life, I put my breath practice to work. My puppy mind wandered, “I am not feeling so good, the lake looks inviting, I will jump in when I am done, another 20 minutes…” I placed it back on the breath. Off it went again, repeated placement. Off again and back I continued to place it on the breath. A little back and forth. When I was on the breath it was relaxing my muscles in a way for them to open up, to stay fluid and not tense. I had moments where I felt I was opening up my stride. The peak sensation was there in the body, but I wasn’t giving it my mind.
I did not achieve enlightenment by the time I crossed the finish line, but I do feel the focus benefited both my body and mind by creating a level of synchronicity which helped me run faster than I had been in training. There was less room for the judgmental critical voice I so often have (I know I am not alone on that!). That was pretty cool. I was able to feed two birds with one seed-I had a pleasant overall experience of as sometimes focused mind while also not feeding the judging ego mind (too much).
Like the puppy, as we grow and continue our practice, we move from puppy mind to dog mind where we can sit, stay, heel, and be content where we are. I let you know as I get closer.