Mind like clear water


What is meditation?

Meditation is training the mind. Training the mind to become what? To become still. In the stillness, all the ripples are gone, the mud in the water settles down, then the mind becomes like clear water. In this clarity, we can see things as they are, transparent, and we are at home with our own true nature.


There are many methods of meditation, but they all can be grouped into two types: focused attention meditation & witnessing/observing meditation.

Focus means anchoring our attention to one thing (or things). It can be an energy center (eg chakra), it can be a body part, it can be breath, or mantra, or movement. Or it can be an external form, for example a candle light (trataka), a sound, a deity, a flower, a picture of someone you love dearly, a representation of God, etc.

The point of this meditation is not the anchor itself, but the act of anchoring our attention.

During the practice usually our attention will wander away from the anchor. When we notice this happen, just gently bring the attention back to the anchor. By focussing our attention to a thing, our other thoughts become less gripping, our mind becomes more calm and spacious.

Example of focused meditation is breath awareness meditation, where we just sit and anchor our attention to the breath. We can observe the air coming in and going out through the nostrils, we can observe the area between the nostril and the upper lip. We can also count the breath, or just follow the breath without counting it.

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in
Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out
~Thich Nhat Hanh

The second method is witnessing, observing, contemplating. Here what we do is we just sit, become still, and observe the mind space. It’s like watching a movie in a cinema – just sit back and observe. At the beginning we may become overwhelmed because there are so many thoughts. Just acknowledge that we have many thoughts and just watch the thoughts, like watching clouds in the sky. Notice that your thoughts, like clouds in the sky, forming, and disappearing – such is the nature of thoughts. They appear and disappear. Just observe, don’t follow the thought.

What usually happens is a thought come, triggering other thoughts, and we forgot that we are just observing, instead we follow that one thought that generates many other thoughts and we’ll start either (a) worrying/planning about the future or (b) regretting/relishing about the past. The sky of mind space then become darkened with many thought clouds and then here comes rain and thunder (emotions such as anger, guilt, apprehension, etc).

Example – a thought of banana comes. It triggers other thought: empty pantry. Oh yeah I didn’t buy it last time I go to the market. Because prices increased and with the same grocery budget I couldn’t buy banana. Because of the inflation and bad economy situation. Because of the unstable political situation. Because of the world is not at peace. And humans are destroying it’s only habitat through global warming. And so on and so forth.

If we could just observe the first thought without letting it triggers other thought, it’ll move on and disappear on its own. Like a cloud in the sky – appearing, moving on, and disappear. As we become better at just observing the clouds, we’ll get glimpses of clear blue sky. Of calm, clear state of mind. And as we practice, the frequency & duration will increase. But it comes with practice, there’s no shortcut. We have to practice. Practice intensely, or practice little but consistently, it’s up to us. If we practice, we’ll progress. And we’ll see the clear blue sky more often. The mind is clear and calm, like a clear day.

With this clarity, as we go about our daily life, we are not as reactive. We have control of our mind. And we can choose to response to the outside stimuli appropriately. When the mind is calm and clear, our inner wisdom (buddhi) becomes more accessible. We start seeing things as they are, without colorings, without conditioning.

Here are some resources from where I learned meditation from:

  1. Om Swami – search for ‘meditation’.
  2. Plum Village home of Thich Nhat Hanh
  3. Vipassana as taught by S.N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin
  4. Swamij.com

And many more I can’t list here. And although I just list the resources above, I would like to emphasize the importance of practice. I’m blessed to be able to join the meditation retreat of Om Swami, Plum Village, and Vipassana before, and I can tell you from my experience that it is the practice that makes the difference. Practice, practice, practice – there’s no shortcut. As Morpheous said to Neo in The Matrix:

There’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.

Image source: Crystal clear and loving it by Tim Shields

Attention, productivity & spirituality


If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.
~ David Allen

The more common angle in discussing attention is in relation with productivity. And there are plenty of books and articles about managing attention for productivity and performance. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (or widely known as GTD) is a very popular framework on productivity. The central thought behind GTD is that every ‘unfinished business’ is taking up some processing power from our finite processing capacity. And our mind is amazingly smart and yet a bit dumb at the same time, it can solve mysteries of the universe but it doesn’t differentiate the thought “How to stop global warming?” and “Remember to buy milk!”. Both are considered as unfinished business and both are taking up some processing capacity.

An interesting concept from the book is “Mind like water”. Here’s from the first chapter of the book:

In karate, there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.

The power in a karate punch comes from speed, not muscle; it comes from a focused “pop” at the end of the whip. It’s why petite people can learn to break boards and bricks with their hands: it doesn’t take calluses or brute strength, just the ability to generate a focused thrust with speed. But a tense muscle is a slow one. So the high levels of training in the martial arts teach and demand balance and relaxation as much as anything else. Clearing the mind and being flexible are key.

Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding inappropriately to your email, your staff, your projects, your unread magazines, your thoughts about what you need to do, your children, or your boss will lead to less effective results than you’d like. Most people give either more or less attention to things than they deserve, simply because they don’t operate with a “mind like water.”

I’m no expert in productivity. I adapt the GTD system to some extent, and it does put some order in the chaos of my life. I’m walking the path of yoga and spirituality as well, and I find this “mind like water” concept has similarities with yoga, specifically the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Here’s Yoga Sutra 1.2 & 1.3 from Swami Jnanesvhara (swamij.com)

Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah.
Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam.
Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field.
Then the seer rests in its true nature.

According to the sutra there are five states of mind: Kshipta (disturbed), Mudha (dull), Vikshipta (distracted), Ekagra (one-pointed), and Nirodhah (mastered, regulated). The first three are undesirable states of mind, and the last two is the doorway to yoga, union. Here’s a definition of Ekagra (from Swami Jnaneshvara again)

The Ekagra mind is one-pointed, focused, concentrated (Yoga Sutra 1.32). When the mind has attained the ability to be one-pointed, the real practice of Yoga meditation begins. It means that one can focus on tasks at hand in daily life, practicing karma yoga, the yoga of action, by being mindful of the mental process and consciously serving others. When the mind is one-pointed, other internal and external activities are simply not a distraction.

The person with a one-pointed mind just carries on with the matters at hand, undisturbed, unaffected, and uninvolved with those other stimuli. It is important to note that this is meant in a positive way, not the negative way of not attending to other people or other internal priorities. The one-pointed mind is fully present in the moment and able to attend to people, thoughts, and emotions at will.

The one-pointed mind is able to do the practices of concentration and meditation, leading one onward towards samadhi. This ability to focus attention is a primary skill that the student wants to develop for meditation and samadhi.

Ekagra is the ability to manage attention, and thus be fully present in the moment, and thus able to react or attend any outside stimuli appropriately, like water, giving response appropriately to the input. No more, no less, and then return to calm.

So. Is yoga and spirituality related at all with productivity? Yes I think so. On the surface they seem unrelated because of the vastly different criteria. Productivity is measured by more material and tangible output, while spirituality is, well, it’s difficult to measure spirituality isn’t it.

I met a few spiritual people and one thing in common in them is they are fully present in the moment and very focused. I met a few productive people as well and I feel the same focus and ‘being in the moment’ quality. I know one person, Om Swami, that exemplifies both spirituality & productivity, I’m blessed to have his presence in my life. His memoir If Truth Be Told, where he shared his journey as a young student struggling to make ends meet in a foreign country, to multimillionaire, to becoming a monk & self-realized, is available internationally in ebook format from Amazon. I have a hardcopy you can borrow if you live in Indonesia – just send me a message.

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Image credits: Mirror Lake, New Zealand, by p-a-t-r-i-c-k at Flickr