Sensei Alex Kakuyo shares a practice to work with suffering by calming the mind one second at a time.
When I took my first steps down the Buddhist path I learned several uncomfortable truths about myself. For example, I learned that much of my suffering was self-created. Sometimes, my mind was clouded by feelings of greed, anger, and ignorance, which caused me to make bad decisions.
Other times, I ruminated on negative events that happened in the past or bad things that might happen in the future. In those moments my imagination caused me to fear things that might occur and be angry about things that were already over.
Buddhism offered a cure for my predicament in the way of meditative concentration. When we engage in this practice we focus our minds one thing to the exclusion of everything else.
We might concentrate on an object in our environment, a body sensation, or a Buddhist chant. When negative thoughts or emotions enter our mind, we refuse to dwell on them. Instead, we acknowledge that our attention has wandered, and re-engage with our meditation. Doing this robs our negative thoughts and emotions of energy. Like refusing to put wood on a fire until it burns out, we stop putting our focus on hurtful things until they lose their power over us. This creates a space, which allows peacefulness to enter our minds, and helps us make better decisions.
There are many ways to practice meditative concentration. However, one of my favorites is something called “The Ticking Watch Meditation.”
The Ticking Watch Meditation
- An analog wrist watch with a second hand that ticks to count each second.
- A comfortable place to sit.
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Breathe in and out through your nose; extending the belly button on every inhale like you had a large meal and relaxing on every exhale
- Look at your wrist watch and count each second until you get to 60.
- If your mind wanders, say “hello” to your thoughts and bring your focus back to your watch.
- At the end of 60 seconds “check-in” with your mind. If it feels agitated or unclear, go back to step two.
In this meditation there are two things that are happening. First, we engage our bodies to help calm our mind. Breathing in and out through the nose engages the parasympathetic nervous system; signaling to our minds that it’s safe to relax. By pushing out our belly buttons on each inhale we expand our diaphragms, which helps us take in more oxygen. This also helps us relax.
Second, we take our watch as the object of concentration; using it to rob our negative thoughts of energy. Each time we count a passing second instead of dwelling on our thoughts we remove a log from the fire of our passions; letting them die away so peace can enter our minds.
Once our minds are at peace (or slightly less agitated at the very least), we’re able to avoid self-created suffering by making better decisions and not giving energy to harmful emotions.