Oakville Zen Meditation

#106. Escaping from our self-made jail.25APR16

Student: “ Zen is teaching us to quiet the mind but I can’t. I am always thinking about this and that, about the past, the future, my current issues, my work. It is non stop, even if I have being meditating for months!”

 Our mind and its hardware component, the brain, are working 24/7 like your heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, etc. Its 100 billions cells produce an estimated 60 thousands thoughts a day, probably more. You cannot stop it but, as we will see, you can learn to control your thoughts and emotions through the practice of awareness.

Student: “You said before, that most of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction come from our mind and not from the outside world. Therefore, the only way to gain some serenity is to control our thoughts and emotions. How can I control my mind if I cannot stop thinking?” 

Controlling your mind does not mean to stop it. It is like pressing on the brakes without stopping your car. Your cognitive mind is a wonderful instrument but its ego-driven emotional component can be your most deceptive friend. It generates all your feelings, craving, expectations, perceptions and illusions and each of them can be the source of ongoing suffering. Your mind loves to control you and is succeeding very well. He is playing and using us so well that we are not conscious of it. Zen calls this state “Waking sleep or day sleep walking or thinking zombie”. This “waking state” is a perfect self-made jail.

Student: “What are the tricks that my mind uses to control and fool me?”

Our emotional mind is, by far, the greatest magician of all time. Using wonderful illusions he is controlling you like the strings control a puppet. Here are some of our mind-made three greatest illusions.

  • Our mind is a wonderful time machine, projecting you all the time in the past or the future that is in a virtual dream world in which you don’t exist. And yet, when you see yourself in the future or in the past you strongly believe in it! What a great illusion from a master magician, isn’t it! By the way, your mind hates the present moment because he cannot control it nor can he play with you since, in NOW, you are “live and real”. Being in the present is a fundamental tool we use to control our mind. I will talk about it shortly.
  • He is also your 24/7 inner movie director. In this movie, you play the main character, either some sort of super hero trying to control everything or, on the contrary, being the poor victim of others, of situations and life in general.
  • Being strongly so ego-driven, your emotional mind is the feeder and booster of I, ME, MINE, MYSELF.
    • Of course, I, ME, MINE, MYSELF are critical to survive and yet, uncontrolled self-centered behavior is the greatest causes of suffering triggered from endless desires, anger, fear of this and that including death, envy, unrealistic expectations, resentment, illusions, being in the past (nostalgia & bad memories) or in a hypothetic future which does not yet exist.
    • We perceive the “I, ME, MINE and MYSELF as a permanent, unique, independent and separate self-entity. In fact, all living beings are the opposite. We are transient, interrelated and interconnected to our surroundings. No way out. This deep illusion of separateness and uniqueness is a fundamental source of suffering.
    • We perceive I, ME, MINE and MYSELF as an entity being in control of almost everything, all the time. Tell me, what do you control? Your own mind? People? Events? Situations? Weather? Job? Health? Weight? Destiny? The fact is that we are controlling almost nothing.

Student:” OK. So, if I am able to control my mind, I may achieve some serenity and less suffering. But how?”

 To get out of our self-made jail is not to stop its thoughts and emotions - this is impossible - but to control their flow. This is where the magical power of awareness comes in. This is the key to freedom and serenity.

Student:How do you define “Awareness?”

Awareness is not a mystical or miraculous state. No need for outside supernatural and divine creature. Awareness is simply to be awake in its broadest form. To be aware is to pay attention, to be conscious, to be mindful of the current moment and its components: you (body- 5 senses- thoughts), what you do and your surroundings. Awareness is not using our cognitive, analytic mind, not having specific goals and not making any decisions. Awake, awakening and enlightenment are synonyms. We all have it. Up to us to discover it.

Student: “ What is so unique about the power of awareness regarding the control of my mind?”

During the state of awareness you put your cognitive thinking mind on stand-by. You don’t use any analytic process such as what? why?, how?, when? and where? There is neither decision-making nor goals besides just observing without judgment. During awareness that is paying attention, consciousness is in its purest form. When you practice pure awareness, your mind does not know what to do. Thoughts will still pop out because but at lower rate. You will be able to be aware of them, then to let them go. No other way.

 Student: “Can you give me an example, thanks”?

Imagine you are walking in the woods. There are plenty of noises around especially birds singing

You have 2 ways to deal with this environment:

  • Use your cognitive mind:

Where are the birds? What kind of birds is it? Cardinal, robin, others, how long is their whistle? Are they singing with high pitch, low pitch? Then your mind moves to other sounds such as wind, dogs, people and the trees. Then it moves you to your next activity at home, at work.  What I am doing tomorrow? for dinner? Etc. Your analytic mind is moving you around non-stop like a hand moving a puppet. You are under his control.

  • Or you can practice awareness:

Decide to pay attention only to the bird’s sounds as they are, without any analysis, goals or decision. Don’t let your mind moving you around from birds to colors, from colors to the wind, from the wind to the smell, from the woods to tomorrow, etc. You run the show not your mind. Meditation is the purest form of awareness practice.


Use your mind only when you need it such as recall, analysis, judgment, opinion, synthesis, decision and creation. Otherwise, don’t be used by it, don’t be its puppet and don’t believe all your thoughts.

Learning to pay attention, or to be aware that is to focus and observe what is happening around you now without an analytic mind, without goal and without decision is the most effective way to minimize, if not, to reduce your thoughts and emotions, then observe them and control their outflow.