When we practice, we are often faced with a very wayward and uncooperative mind. Though we have intentions to be present and attend wholeheartedly, we find, time and time again, those intentions and our attention are hijacked and sabotaged by passing thoughts, plans, ruminations, and memories. Too often we meet the habit of fragmentation both in our lives and in our practice, where our bodies are in one place and our minds are quite separately inhabiting a different space.
From the Buddhist perspective, this fragmentation, this disunification, is truly a recipe for distress, confusion, struggle, and heedlessness. It is very often a recipe for unhappiness.
In the Dhammapada, one of the earliest and most beloved collections of the Buddha’s teachings, where the Buddha recognizes and acknowledges the waywardness of the mind, he says, “This mind is hard to control, flighty, alighting where it wishes. One does well to train. The well-trained mind brings happiness and deepens happiness.”
Many practitioners will recognize that samadhi—this quality of inner-collectedness, calm, and stillness—is, in reality, the Achilles’ heel of their practice. We can have many insights, but too often they just remain at a conceptual level. We know about dukkha. We know about unsatisfactory, illness, and what triggers them. We know about impermanence. And we have glimpses of nonself and nonclinging. Yet somehow that knowing too often doesn’t seem to sink into our bones in a way that transforms the landscape of our heart and mind.
That gap—that sense of dissonance—can be so frustrating to us when we find that time and time again our intentions and attention are sabotaged, essentially, by psychological and emotional habits of reactivity. So often our intentions and attention are sabotaged by agitation. Samadhi is a development of a process, or a cultivation, that truly takes some commitment, time, and dedication. But it is the cultivation of a mind that feels like a true friend, heals dissonance, and allows for creativity and responsiveness. It is the foundation of liberating insight.
So it’s important to recognize that samadhi is a pathway, a training, a cultivation, and really worth developing in a dedicated piece of time. It’s important not to be discouraged, or to yield to frustration, but to try to see this process of calming as often new territory for us. We can have such a long history of agitation, reactivity, and narrative building, and it takes care to begin to calm all of this. We can appreciate the challenges that we face in developing this pathway, but perhaps also sense the profound benefits of this well-trained mind.