Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard speaks so clearly at TED about mind-training, aka mindfulness training or meditation.
We sometimes say we’ll meditate when we really get stuck, in that crazed moment when we can’t take it anymore, but as Ricard explains well, meditation, like prayer, is not meant as a quick fix, a way to just ‘calm down.’ It’s not a corrective lens we can just slip on and, voila!, everything looks different, everything feels different. Meditation (like prayer, I would say) is an ongoing practice, a training, in seeing phenomena for what they are, e.g., in seeing that emotions and opinions are not solid and fixed, as they may seem, but are instead fluid and transitory, always changing — unless we get stuck on them.
Here’s part of his talk on Habits of Happiness:
“Usually when we feel annoyed, hatred, or upset with someone, or obsessed with something, the mind goes again and again to that object. Each time it goes to the object, it reinforces that obsession or that annoyance. So then it’s a self-perpetuating process.
“So what we need to look now, is instead of looking outward we look inward. Look at anger itself: it looks very menacing, like a billowing monsoon cloud, a thunderstorm. We think we could sit on the cloud, but if we go there, it’s just mist. Likewise, if you look at the thought of anger, it will vanish like frost under the morning sun. If you do this again and again, the propensity, the tendencies for anger to arise again will be less and less each time we have dissolved it. And at the end, although it may arise, it will just cross the mind like a bird crossing the sky without leaving any track.
“So this is the principle of mind-training. Now, it takes time, because it took time for all those folds in our mind, the tendencies, to build up, so it will take time to unfold them as well. But that’s the only way to go. Mind transformation, that is the very meaning of meditation. It means familiarisation with a new way of being, new way of perceiving things, which is more in an equation with reality, with inter-dependence. “