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What is Meditation? - Dancing Buddhas Books

What is Meditation?

I am asked this question a lot of times. When I am casually talking to people, at meetings, at meditation retreats I run. And the next question I get asked is how to empty the mind?

Lao Tsu

Dropping from the head to the heart. It is the journey of merely one step. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao Tsu.

It is to think less and experience more. It is to drop the mind and to be in the heart. It is to set the mind aside and not allow it to run away with thoughts but to step aside and observe the thoughts as they float or run, walk or stroll across the screen of the mind.

A movie screen?

The best analogy that I can give is this: Imagine the mind to be a screen in a movie theatre. And the thoughts are actors in the movie that we direct. And just as a director can direct all the actors and stars to act and behave according to a story line, we can direct our thoughts to do that too.

The mind as an imageHowever what tends to happen is that the thoughts appear to have a life of their own. The mind becomes the director and we appear to be left as an extra! With just a bit part in our own movie that we are writing, creating, producing and directing. Is this what we want?

Another story that I love is one that Gautama the Buddha used to teach his disciple Ananda. Once on a long journey travelling from one village to another, Ananda kept asking his master what meditation was.

So to illustrate, Buddha asked Ananda to fetch him some water from a stream they had crossed a few miles back. Ananda, annoyed, requested his master to wait until they reached the next village as they were not that far away. Dusk was falling and the journey ahead through the forest could be treacherous.

But Buddha sitting down beneath a tree, insisted on sending Ananda back to the stream they had just crossed. Reluctantly Ananda went back. However as he approached, he saw a herd of deer crossing the stream muddying the waters.

A stream full of mud and leaves

It was autumn and the stream was full of mud and fallen leaves. Ananda had no choice but to sit by the stream waiting for it to settle down before he could take the clear water back to his master.

As he sat on the banks, and as the mud and leaves settled, so did his mind. Soon the water was crystal clear and so was his mind – with no thought passing through. It was then that Ananda had a flash of insight. As he understood why Buddha had sent him back to fetch some water, he was overwhelmed with gratitude for his master.

This above story beautifully illustrates the nature of the mind and how if we can only sit by the side, watching the stream – of thoughts – can quieten it.

So how can this be done? Which is where, I find, a daily sitting practice becomes imperative – especially to those on the path.


Here, I take the time to get up daily, no matter what is happening in my life, no matter where I
am, no matter how occupied my day ahead is. I take the time even if it is for a mere 15 minutes to just SIT

Some days I get up with my thoughts abuzz where I can get no relief from my thinking mind, with it constantly buzzing with things to do, organise and plan. Other days even though there is nothing ahead for me, I find that I cannot separate myself from my thoughts. Some days it takes no time at all, other days it takes more. And on some days, it happens just like that! I can drop down from the thinking to the experiencing. Or as Lao Tsu says dropping from the head to the heart.

The Monkey Mind

In spite of the antics of the monkey-mind, such a daily practice helps set the tone for my day. It helps me ground myself and anchor and root the body in my meditation. And yes some days I lose myself in the daily chores, the stresses and anxiety of the day ahead. But this grounding is my strength, my coming back home, my refuge when things become stressful, appear to be getting out of hand, where I see how things are not going my way as I had planned. My meditative practice allows me to change with circumstances, accept what is happening moment to moment and gives me the strength of the willow, allowing me to be flowing like water, the grace of the feminine to embrace change.

Sitting Silently

Sitting silently the monkey mind stills itself

So what do you think? Have you had some such similar experiences where you have watched your mind as if it is a movie? Or like the Buddha story of sitting by the banks of a muddy stream as it slowly clears and the waters become crystal clear? Do write you answers in the comments below.

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