It’s Your Brain, Now Learn How to Use It
There’s an old Buddhist metaphor about the stages of practice called the Ox Herding Pictures. It describes the 10 steps to enlightenment using the images of a man finding, chasing, and finally taming an ox.
The ox represents the mind. It is a wild, dangerous beast, but if it is tamed it can do great things.
Most people don’t tame their mind. They don’t even try. They sit there and say things like, “I’m a very negative person” or “I’m depressed” or “I never finish what I start.”
The good and bad news is this: it’s your fucking brain, and what happens inside it is your responsibility.
That means that if you spend your time thinking depressing thoughts, eating bad food, and sitting on your ass, you’re going to be depressed. And it’s 100% your fault.
The first of the Ox Herding Pictures is In Search of the Bull. Aimless searching, only the sound of cicadas. The second is Discovery of Footprints, and the third is Perceiving the Bull. The spiritual seeker is shown as first seeing the bull’s rear end, not its head, at most getting an idea of the existence of the bull and the size of the task at hand.
A lot of people, apparently, spend many years between stages one and three.
But the mind, like an ox, goes wherever it wants if you don’t discipline it.
Many people also tell me, “I can’t meditate. I just sit there and think about other things.” They give up right there, not realizing that the point of meditation is to discipline the mind. You sit, staring at a point on the floor in front of you, and when your mind goes somewhere, you bring it back. You center yourself. You’re training your mind to go where you want it to go. You’re always going to have distraction in your life, the point is to accept distraction, and then focus yourself again on your objectives.
That’s why I mentioned meditation in Self Help for Minimalists. Stopping your mind is the first step toward sending it in more positive directions.
I used to spend a lot of time meditating. I started when I was 19 and having an incredibly bad time on a lot of levels. I used to sit there in my dad’s house in the Sonora meditating, and my mind would turn over and over with these thoughts about how shitty my life was. I would bring it back to my breathing. It was an enormous struggle for what seemed like an eternity, until my mind got the idea of what I was doing, and positive thoughts started coming in. I started thinking about something funny, and ended up laughing. It was a small success along the path.
Having goals and the discipline to focus on them day after day is the best thing I’ve done for myself. The best thing is to start small.
Now get to work.
P.S. Kerouac talks about the Ox Herding Pictures in his book The Dharma Bums, if you’re one of those people who idolizes Kerouac for whatever reason. I liked The Dharma Bums a lot more than On the Road, personally.