Archive for the ‘Compassion’ Category

“Bhikkhus, whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of renunciation, he has abandoned the thought of sensual desire to cultivate the thought of renunciation, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of non-ill will… upon thoughts of non-cruelty, he has abandoned the thought of cruelty to cultivate the thought of non-cruelty, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of non-cruelty.”

(Majjhima Nikāya 19.11; Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, trans., and Bhikkhu Bodhi, trans. and ed., The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya, 4th ed., Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009, p. 209.)

In an episode of her podcast The Happiness Lab titled “Dial D for Distracted,” Dr. Laurie Santos describes what psychologists call “inattentional blindness.” What you focus on can make you miss a lot of other things. What if our minds are lying to us about what’s important, leading us away from what really can make us happy? In particular, the quick and constant access to news and social media on our mobile devices seem to take us away from fully experiencing moments that would have enriched us or made us happy. One example was a new mother realizing she was sitting next to her newborn, absently absorbed in looking down at her phone while her baby gazed steadily at her. This realization led her to figure out how to “retrain the muscle of attention.”

Now that we are all more isolated and have a lot of bad news to follow out in the world, this problem is obviously true. And paying too much attention to these subjects can not only cause us to suffer, make us feel that things are out of control, but can also greatly interfere with our ability to remain mindful during the day and focus on our practice. I find that when I sit down to meditate, often what I’ve been paying attention to “out there” can now take a lot more effort to put aside.

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu’s talk from September 21, 2019 “In Control of Your Thoughts” addresses this issue in a very helpful way. The talk explores how what we think about can affect our sense of well-being. When greed, anger, and delusion take over our minds, they can take us to places that are pretty bad. Learning how to put aside concerns of the world is a great relief for the mind. And then focusing on the breath and making it comfortable can lead us to a sense of settling down:

The real sources of the suffering that weighs down the mind, as the Buddha pointed out, come from within the mind itself. He made a comparison: It’s like rust. Rust comes out of the iron, and then the rust eats the iron away. When you find the mind weighed down with things, you can ask yourself, what is the mind doing to weigh itself down? When you learn the skill of how to stay with the breath, put down your other thoughts, you get some control over the mind. You can see when it’s wandering off in ways that are not very helpful, that are oppressive. You can pull it back. You can direct it in directions that are actually more helpful. It is the force that’s shaping our life more than anything else, the intentions of the mind. And yet if they are out of control, that means your life is out of control.

What we choose to take in and focus on can have a great effect on the mind. Training our minds to focus on skillful rather than unskillful thoughts both on and off the cushion can help us develop a sense of well-being that will settle us down and enable us to continue our practice.

May everyone abide in well-being.


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