Training My Senses to Train My Mind

By Rosemary

Stories From Meditators

Rosemary describes how she has used passage meditation and all the eight points to train her senses, improve her health, and successfully gain more mastery over her mind. Rosemary lives in Virginia.

Transitions and tiredness are both tough for me. During times when I have just finished one task or activity and have not begun the next, or when I’m beginning to feel fatigued, I feel vulnerable. In my vulnerability and vague uncertainty about what’s coming next, I am more apt to experience cravings and act impulsively.

My impulsiveness can take the form of eating or shopping, as well as getting sucked into social media, word games, or email on my phone. Gaining ground on these impulsive/compulsive behaviors has been hard work, but because of the eight points and the help of my fellow meditators, I’ve had many small successes. I never cease to marvel at how effective these tools and allies can be.

It might be helpful to know that I have been living with an auto-immune illness since age twelve. In 2007, at the age of 55, I was very functional by societal standards, but actually struggling inside and out.  My compulsions were numerous. The content of what I was eating or drinking, reading or watching, saying or imagining didn’t matter nearly as much to me then as whether it could make me feel better for a little while.

Saint Francis liked this metaphor to depict his relationship with his body. “This body is brother donkey. I feed him, I wash him, but I am going to ride on him.” You might say that when I came to the eight-point program I was the epitome of the person whose donkey could be seen to be riding her on any given day!  In that first year I took to meditation I began to accept Easwaran’s wisdom that drinking, smoking, over-eating were all ways in which the donkey was riding me.  I became willing to learn how to get that donkey off my back and begin to ride it.

Inspiration: Breaking the Chain of My Thoughts

Early on, our passage meditation group was watching an Easwaran video talk (which is now available to watch online), “The Space Between Thoughts”, and it felt as if he was speaking directly to me when he disclosed that thoughts are not continuous. When we are able to slow thoughts down we can interrupt their flow and then consciously direct our attention elsewhere. I was already familiar with the beautiful concept of redirecting attention because I had worked with so many people suffering from confusion and dementia where that skill is highly prized.

That video talk and the one called “Breaking Chains”, in conjunction with reading the book Conquest of Mind, helped me find the confidence to brave the training of my own mind and senses. Hope once again dawned in me that I might someday be the free and loving person I truly want to be.

Rosemary (left) with a fellow passage meditator during a satsang visit.

Playing With Likes and Dislikes

Starting out in my practice, I was a big mystery fan, and I groaned when Easwaran suggested it’s important to be mindful of what we read and watch. I had to play around with those ingrained likes and dislikes, but gradually my appreciation for less violent, less titillating material gains ground.

In the first few years of my practice I was able to identify a deep driving desire for optimum health and learn to feed it using the eight points. I was still working when I embraced changing my diet to one which minimizes inflammation, saying bye-bye to many favorite foods. This was a really big change. Self-will had to surrender a lot! I learned how important it was to get up at least 2 hours before leaving the house and proceeded slowly and steadily through the early morning, having my meditation and a nutritious breakfast before calmly gathering my things and heading out the door.

Avoiding the foods that historically ramp up my inflammation isn’t easy in this world.  Sometimes my grandchildren look at me with loving concern and say, “Grammie, don’t you like ice cream?” (Or it may be some other delicious treat they are enjoying.)  In all honesty, I tell them, “Yes, I really do like how that tastes, but I’ve had a whole lifetime to enjoy that.  These days I like feeling well even more than I like ice cream.”

Using all the Eight Points to Train the Senses

Simply being teachable about the development of my practice of the eight points is my biggest asset. That’s a good thing, because it turns out that all of the other points have important roles to play when working on, training our senses.

At first, I didn’t fully understand the value of some of the points. I wondered what the point of writing out our mantrams repeatedly was. It felt like a school punishment, popular in my day, where you were assigned to write something like I will not talk in class 100 times. But, I did what Easwaran and my fellow meditators so often urge; I tried it for myself. After a relatively short time, I had to admit, the practice of writing my mantram was helping me slow down and become more one pointed.

The mantram, we are told, works in conjunction with meditation, beneath the surface, to get at the root of a negative habit or compulsion. The other points can be used above ground, so to speak, to work on the habit directly. The mantram, when combined with some physical action like walking, writing, swimming, tying my shoes, washing my dishes, etc., is of the utmost importance when I experience a craving or urge to act impulsively. I insert it as soon as I get those funny tingles that signal a craving and it acts as immediate first aid.

I often didn’t have my mantram notebook with me when I unexpectedly had a few minutes to write it. Last year I discovered some 3”x4”, inexpensive, lined, sewn journals. I bought about 10 of them and leave them lying unobtrusively about in various places as well as my purse. Next to the computer, it reminds me to mantram before I start. On the kitchen island, it reminds me to write a few mantrams before I cook. And if I don’t feel I have time to write them, just seeing the journal reminds me to repeat my mantram silently.

One pointed attention can feel like a difficult choice when I have a mountain of kids’ laundry to fold or a big bowl of beans to snap. I might feel like turning on the TV or listening to a podcast. I know that when I choose to just mantram and fold or snap, I benefit because I am building the muscles I need for the next ambush perpetrated by my savage self-will. And, I know my family benefits because those mantrams go with them in their clothing and their food, which will help them be stronger too.

Somewhere along the line I fell out of the habit of reading my mystics at bedtime. Instead I was using that last precious half hour or so playing an online word game with old friends. At a BMCM retreat last September we were working on changing habits and that’s the one I chose to battle. It’s hard for me to read just before bed, so I have replaced the gaming with watching an Easwaran video, or listening to one of his audio talks, both of which are so easily accessible online these days.

Putting Meditation First

There’s reassurance in knowing that when I work at strengthening my practice, and strive to redirect my anger or frustration by putting others first, it is lastingly good for everyone. Most recently, looking for additional ways to deepen my meditation I took a bold step I had previously been unable to take. For the last few months, I have been getting up at 5:30 every morning to have my meditation about 6:00. My meditation has always happened before breakfast, but now that I am semi-retired, timing had gotten quite irregular. If crawling out of my nice warm bed into the cold dark house at that early hour isn’t training my senses, I don’t know what is! But it sure has made a surprisingly positive difference in my whole day.

My favorite passages when I am focused on training my senses are Silence, The Blessing of a Well-Trained Mind, All Paths Lead to Me, Be Aware of Me Always and The Lord of Life, especially verse 7 which reads:

Train your senses to be obedient.
Regulate your activities to lead you
To the goal. Hold the reins of your mind
As you hold the reins of restive horses.