Feb 15, 2011

Book Review: Turning the Mind into an Ally

While riding the 1 train home from downtown this evening, I finished Sakyong Mipham's Turning the Mind into an Ally. Another Tibetan Buddhist dharma book, this one focuses on the practice of Shamatha (peaceful abiding) meditation. I found it incredibly insightful and provocative. Though I have been meditating for a meager two weeks, the book has greatly helped me tune my mediation and focus. The benefits of this one-on-one time with my mind are already revealing themselves. I've been much more focused at work. A heightened awareness of distractions and discursive thoughts has enabled me to bring my attention back to the task at hand; whatever it may be.

Sakyong uses the analogy of taming a wild horse when describing meditation and the wildness of our minds. He describes how easily it is for our minds to roam from thought to thought which leads us to feelings and emotions when meditating. It's so true. I am still bombarded with distractions when I meditate. The goal, (for me at this point) is to bring my thoughts back to my breathing. The distracting thoughts are perfectly alright. They're neither good nor bad; the important part is that I realize that I am thinking these thoughts and I return my thoughts to the breath. It is a challenge but a rewarding one. I'm working with my mind and it feels great. As I've said, I'm finding it easier to be present in terms of perceiving whats happening around me as well as in communicating clearly with people. My mind is becoming less busy! Hallelujah!

One thing I really liked about this book is how Sakyong speaks about the impermanence in life. He describes it as the unchanging truth of change. Everything is in a state of flux, so why not relax into the ebb and flow of life? This shouldn't be taken as a “well, hell, what can you do?” approach to life. It's more along the lines of the fact that the world is made of infinite moving parts. Weather changes, people die, people are born, what we like today is old news tomorrow, relationships grow and fade. Recognizing this makes us more in tune with reality, and we can relax. Permanence is so easy to attach ourselves to. But, when we fully realize impermanence we're no longer fooled by it and pain begins to fade. I can remember when I used to think: Gee, if I could just go back to Baltimore, things would be great. Life was so simple there. But in truth, it's all changed. Everything is completely different.

I'll leave you with a quote from the book where Sakyong speaks about impermanence:
Understanding the meaning of impermanence makes us less desperate people. It gives us dignity. We no longer grasp at pleasure, trying to squeeze out every last drop. We no longer consider pain something we should fear, deny, and avoid. We know that it will change. This is a very strong direction toward opening the mind of enlightenment. We've learned to look at what's in front of us. We don't have to keep imitating an idea of permanent happiness: “If I work hard, I'm going to make a lot of money, and then I'll be happy.” We see that happiness doesn't come about that way; it comes from cultivating the virtues that lead to enlightenment. Ultimately, it comes from wisdom, from understanding the unchanging truth of change.

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