When you have difficulty with the constant interruptions that occur in following your breath, you could mentally take a break. That doesn’t mean loosening your posture; you just mentally take a break and start again. You could do that over and over. It has been said in the scriptures that you can do that 100 times an hour, if you like. Start again and start again and start again. Keep coming back. Take a break and come back.
Taking a break is not regarded as a failure. It doesn’t mean that you cannot sit properly or that you are not an ideal meditator. So please don’t blame yourself. Please don’t think you are bad or unable to sit. Instead, whenever things get too tangled up, just cut it right there. Give the whole thing up and start fresh. Starting fresh means coming back to your posture, to your awareness of your head and shoulders, and then going back to the breath.
Practice is very simple as long as you keep your posture, but it is hard to do. It’s quite different from what happens in a Pentecostal church, where people speak in tongues and cry and laugh. Shamatha practice is very hard-nosed. When you cry, you should keep your posture; when you laugh, you should sit with your laughter. Although tears might be coming down your cheeks, crying is just a thought, a mental burp; it is fine. Meditation has to be simple; otherwise we are creating another world. When we do so, we then need to create something else to resolve that other world, so we are perpetuating a huge snowball. Why can’t we handle the world very simply, as human beings sitting down and meditating, breathing, and trying to pass the time?
Awareness takes hard work. You need a careful, ambitious approach to trying to work with yourself, to the point that you are becoming aware every moment. There is no other way. If you are not careful, it is neither the body’s problem nor the breathing’s problem. You have not sufficiently registered the idea of awareness in your head, so you drifted away. The idea of awareness has to become almost dogmatic. In a one-hour sitting practice, you have to pull yourself back at least 60 times. That takes programming, almost computerizing yourself.
You have got to come back. When you come back, you have your body and your breath. You cannot escape from that. Sometimes discipline becomes embarrassing; you are too self-conscious, too formal. However, you need more discipline of coming back to the breathing. You don’t have to count down in order to let go, and you don’t have to prepare to come back—you are right there. As soon as you begin to question that, you are already back.
Once you come back, everything becomes spacious. You have lots of room to sit. So don’t feel pressured that you have to accomplish anything. You are not sitting to accomplish something, you are sitting to understand something. So you need to take a more passive attitude. You are trying to understand the meaning and the wisdom of the enlightened ones, the direct transmission of the Buddha’s message to you, handed down from lineage holder to lineage holder. Accomplishing is different from understanding. To accomplish something, you have to push, to crank up your machine: you drive fast, talk fast, accomplish fast. However, if you are trying to understand something, pushing doesn’t help.
By meditating, you are doing something very honest, something that was done in the past by the Buddha himself. You could do it very literally, absolutely literally. There are no tricks and no magic. Everything can be very smooth, simple, and ordinary. You are just being. It is like floating in the Dead Sea.
From The Path of Individual Liberation, by Chogyam Trungpa, compiled and edited by Judith L. Lief © 2013. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications.