Q: I’ve been trying to meditate but am finding it impossible to focus my mind for long. My mind always wanders off, picking up a random thought, dropping it midstream, only to pick up another. I’d like to get rid of this low-grade, fickle mind so I can meditate, but I don’t know how. My attempts to find inner peace are getting me nowhere.
A: Your negative attitude toward your mind is a big problem. You are telling your mind that it is your worst enemy and then begging it to help you. Instead of blaming your mind for dropping one object and picking up a series of other objects, try to understand why your mind is behaving this way.
Without knowing what is motivating its erratic behavior, you blame your mind and call it low-grade and fickle. What you fail to understand is that your mind is imbued with the power to help you find happiness. In fact, finding happiness is its main job. In an attempt to do its job, it fastens on an object, quickly sees that this object will not bring real satisfaction, drops it, and goes to another.
That is why our attempts to find inner peace lead nowhere.
The scriptures tell us that the mind is the gateway to a vast pool of power and intelligence, and further, that when we attain mastery over it, unending joy and freedom will be ours. But instead of learning to master the mind, we allow it to roam aimlessly. As a result, we strive for peace with an agitated mind and look for clarity with a distracted mind. We search for our inner self with a mind that knows only how to operate in the external world. We attempt to achieve lasting happiness with a mind accustomed to chasing short-lived pleasures. We yearn for ultimate freedom with a mind enslaved by its own dysfunctional habits. That is why our attempts to find inner peace lead nowhere.
The better we understand the mind, the greater our chances of succeeding in our inner quest. In this regard, it is helpful to know that the mind is composed of four distinct faculties: manas, the first faculty, identifies itself with the objects of the world and with its own thought processes; ahankara, the second, thinks, argues, and debates; buddhi, the third, the decisive faculty, discriminates between what is good and useful and what is unwholesome and meaningless; chitta, the fourth faculty, is retentive power—the power to recollect and string together different segments of information in proper order. These four faculties work together when the mind is one-pointed and concentrated.
But when these different aspects of the mind are not working together there is no continuity among our thought, speech, and action. We say one thing and do the opposite, because the various aspects of our mind are not coordinated. There are gaps and inconsistencies in our thoughts, speech, and action. When there is no continuity among our thought, speech, and action, the mind is disturbed, distracted, and stupefied. It is disturbed because, deep within, the elements of attachment, desire, anger, fear, and doubt are active, and the mind is operating under their influence. The mind is distracted because disturbance and stupefaction are mingled with enthusiasm, courage, motivation, and clarity, and all these elements are randomly active. As a result, the mind is partly focused and partly dissipated.
We all have the capacity to attain mastery over our mind.
A mind caught in any of these three states lacks clarity. It has no confidence in its own powers and privileges. It is indecisive and only halfheartedly willing to act on its thoughts and ideas. It seeks validation from external sources. When propelled by a disturbed, stupefied, or distracted mind, our endeavors bear little fruit, and the fruit they do bear is invariably tainted by doubt, uncertainty, and fear. This is a vicious circle: our actions and their fruits reinforce the tendencies that caused the mind to be disturbed, stupefied, and distracted in the first place.
The yoga masters assure us we all have the capacity to break out of this vicious circle and attain mastery over our mind. When we are able to link the various aspects of the mind and maintain continuity of awareness from thought to speech and from speech to action, we can trust ourselves to follow through on our decisions. This linking process is called yoga. Yoga sadhana offers a comprehensive, systematic approach to training our mind to be clear, calm, and one-pointed. With time, patience, and systematic practice, we can change the nature of our thoughts and emotions and achieve mastery over our mind, senses, speech, and actions. Then we will be confident in our decisions, and the mind will pursue any goal we set—including the goal of establishing a fruitful meditation practice—untiringly and fearlessly.