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.
Dhammapada v 35-36 translated by Gil Fronsdal
These two verses work together, reminding us that the mind, “alighting where it wishes”, is hard to control and hard to see. So true, eh? The mind cannot be controlled by force any more than a hungry and tired two-year-old can be reasoned with. But within these verses there are clues as to how to tame and protect the mind.
The mind is by nature flighty; it is fast and fluid and moves from one sensation, sight, sound, thought, smell, etc. to the other with a rapidity we can’t even track. So, I’m thinking: what if we don’t try to control our minds by putting them into tiny boxes? What if we give them really big cages? The outside boundary of the cage is where the mind moves towards harming others and ourselves; everything else is allowed and investigated. That is one possible training.
The second verse points out how subtle and hard to see the workings of the mind are, and says that the mind needs protection. We would be wise to accept this assessment; there are things that we don’t know about our own minds. All we can do is turn our attention to this bizarre phenomenon of mental activity and keep trying to understand it. And while we are investigating, we can protect it by keeping ourselves away from things we know are unwholesome as much as possible; I’m thinking slasher movies, porn, obvious things like that. We could also include guilt trips and other forms of obsessive thinking on the “to be avoided” list.
I have a clear memory of a day several years ago, touring a public garden in Nova Scotia in August. The beauty and serenity of it swallowed me whole. That day I told my husband and mother that if I should lose my mind, please just put me into a garden and I would be OK, needing nothing else. It’s a nonsensical thought, but the feeling is true. I know that being in a garden in bloom, or by the ocean, or in the company of good friends, is wholesome and restorative for me. You will have your own list of “safe” places for your mind. I’m recommending visiting those places, internal or external, and choosing them over the ones that might be less safe and more disruptive.
“The watched mind brings happiness.” I’ve found this to be true even if my mood is blue. If mindfulness is present, then the object we’re aware of is not so important and the process of awareness is intrinsically interesting and life-affirming.