This is an excerpt from Why Meditate? Working with Thoughts and Emotions by Matthieu Ricard. I’ve borrowed it from the Fall 2010 issue of Tricycle magazine.

As you read it, remember that the unstable, disorderly mind that he talks about is the Monkey Mind we all live with at times – at least until we start to bring it under control. The veils are all the crap in our heads that we see through and that create the way we think and perceive our reality to be. Meditation is but one way of many that we can use to calm Monkey Mind, but all the different methods work by recognizing the big issues first and progressing to the small issues – gross to subtle. There’s no way we will even see the subtle elements of something until we understand the bigger picture.

“In order to recognize the fundamental nature of the mind, we have to remove the veils created by automatic thought patterns. How do we do that? Suppose you are trying to retrieve a key that has fallen into a pond. If you poke about on the bottom with a stick, you’ll completely muddy the water and won’t have the slightest chance of spotting the key. The first thing you have to do is let the water settle until it becomes clear. After that, it will be easy to see the key and pick it up. We must work with our mind in the same way. We have to begin by making it clear, calm, and attentive. After that, we can use this new skill to cultivate other qualities, such as altruistic love and compassion, as well as to develop a deeper insight into the nature of mind.

Most of the time our mind is unstable, disorderly, and driven by whims as it bounces back and forth between hope and fear. It is self-centered, hesitant, fragmented, confused, and sometimes even absent, as well as weakened by internal contradictions and a feeling of insecurity. It rebels against any kind of training and is constantly occupied by a stream of inner chatter that generates a constant background noise we are barely aware of. Because these dysfunctional states are nothing but products of the mind itself, it makes sense that the mind can also remedy them.

So the idea is to gradually progress from a state of mind where unfavorable conditions prevail, to another state that is characterized by stable attention, inner peace and clarity, confidence, courage, openness toward others, benevolence, the ability to deal with emotions, and other qualities of a vast and calm mind.”