Muddy Water is Best Cleared by Leaving it Alone


The other day, a student asked me about meditation. She was very curious about what it is and its usefulness in daily life. I told her that many people are interested in meditation because it gives them a sense of peace and quiet. But what they don’t understand is that sitting with your eyes closed is only the beginning. The beginning of understanding the mind.


S: How does the mind work?

T: Do you have a jar? Ah! There it is. Here’s a jar filled with a bit of sand at the bottom and covered with water. What happens when I shake the jar?

S: Umm.. all the grains of sand begin swirling all around.

T: Correct. And each of those grains of sand represents a thought - an idea. It could be a happy thought, a sad thought, an angry thought. But, the grains swirling around represent all of the thoughts buzzing around our heads throughout the day. Let’s put the jar down and allow the sand to settle. See how the sand - or thoughts - become calmer and the water becomes clearer? The thoughts are still there, but they are no longer all “crazy.” Peace and stillness have taken over.

S: So...when the thoughts have become calm then what happens?

T: The mind becomes clear like clean water. And with a clear mind you can see what is.

S: I don’t understand.

T: A clouded mind always wanders into the past and future. It runs away from the present - the what is. Do you understand?

S: (Shaking her head) No.

T: Let me put it in a simpler way. What’s your first reaction when your friend says something mean to you?

S: I would think about what’s wrong with me.

T: Okay and why do you do that?

S: Because I want to know how I can become a better person.

T: Do you see what you’re doing? How do you know something is wrong with you? Does your friend tell you what is wrong with you?

S: Not really. I mean, I’m not sure.

T: Then how do you know something is wrong with you? Don’t you have to recall from your previous experiences - such as what happened before? And isn’t that looking through the past?

S: Yes, that’s true.

T: Also, when you want to become a better person, you’re imagining something in the future, are you not?

S: Yes, but we have to change if we want to become a better person.

T: In order to change, one has to understand the actual problem. If there is no problem, there is nothing to be changed.

S: But my teachers always said, “You need to change.” Then we can change our future.

T: First of all, people tell you to change because they want to control you. They want to change you to become someone who they’ve imagined.

S: Yeah, like parents.

T: Well, that’s another story. Just remember, when a person’s mind is still clouded with wandering thoughts, it will have difficulty seeing what is and identifying the actual problem. Therefore, this person only knows to seek from past knowledge and compare with others to imagine a future. And secondly, you won’t change the future by telling other people to change. You change the future by changing yourself.