You Can’t Stop the Waves
One way to envision how mindfulness works is to think of your mind as the surface of a lake or of the ocean. There are always waves on the water. Sometimes they are big, sometimes they are small, and sometimes they are almost imperceptible. The water’s waves are churned up by the winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, which stir up waves in our minds.
People who don’t understand meditation think that it is some kind of special inner manipulation which will magically shut off these waves so that the surface will be flat, peaceful, and tranquil. But just as you can’t put a glass plate on the water to calm the waves, so you can’t artificially suppress the waves of your mind, and it is not too smart to try. It will only create more tension and inner struggle, not calmness. That doesn’t mean that calmness is unattainable. It’s just that it cannot be attained by misguided attempts to suppress the mind’s natural activity.
It is possible through meditation to find shelter from much of the wind that agitates the mind. Over time, a good deal of the turbulence may die down from lack of continuous feeding. But ultimately the winds of life and of the mind will blow, do what we may. Meditation is about knowing something about this and how to work with it.
The spirit of mindfulness practice was nicely captured in a poster of a seventyish yogi, Swami Satchitananada, in full white beard and flowing robes atop a surfboard riding the waves off a Hawaiian beach. The caption read: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are