The mind, hard to control,
Flighty — alighting where it wishes —
One does well to tame.
The disciplined mind brings happiness.
The mind, hard to see,
Subtle — alighting where it wishes —
The sage protects.
The watched mind brings happiness. (translated by Gil Fronsdal)
There’s no wrong time to watch the mind. Sometimes it jumps around, calling our attention to it; sometimes it stays “in neutral” and we might not be aware that we have a mind. But if we make a habit of keeping track of where our mind is going, two things happen: first, we notice that it is completely out of our control, we’re an observer in this process; and second, that the more we attend to the movements of our minds with steady interest and kindness, the less agitated our minds become. The very act of equanimous observation has the effect, over the long term, of taming the mind.
One important result of maintaining awareness of our mind is that if we are noticing the moods and movements of the mind, we are less inclined to identify with each flight of fancy or negative landing-place. We see thoughts as a scientist might, as natural changes in energetic momentum, stimulated by causes and conditions we can rarely identify. If we make no attempt to track the movements of our mind, we are along for the ride, identifying with every random thought with the underlying assumption, “This is me”, often followed by the thought, “What’s wrong with me?”.
As the verses point out, it is hard to see our own minds, and even harder to control them. We can’t control our minds through force, we can only gradually re-train them to stay in the fields that we (try to) confine them to. We can choose carefully what we take in to our mind. If we watch a lot of images of cruelty, damage, and destruction, that will be its field of abode; if we read or listen to the Buddha’s Dhamma, that creates a place for the mind to visit and possibly settle. The people we spend time with inspire or discourage us. These are significant factors in the process of training the mind.
The more we practice this type of mindfulness, attending to the state of our mind and what influences those states, the more clearly we will understand that this mind is not directly controllable, and is not “me”. The result of this understanding is a calm and pleasant mental space.