When we begin meditation, we first start to work with the breath and we see the mind wandering. This is actually our first insight, which is called “seeing the waterfall.” You ask your mind to “please stay on the breath,” but of course it doesn’t! It seems like such a little thing to say on the breath. But instead, it plans and worries and fantasizes and makes the grocery list. Then you notice you’re not breathing and you bring it back to the breath for a few breaths and then it’s off again on some new or old fantasy … and you notice. This is when we begin to be aware of our inner dialog. This is “seeing the water fall”. Meditation is train the mind in the midst of all this chatter.
Jack Kornfield says that beginning to work with the breath is like training a puppy. You pick the puppy up and put it on a piece of paper, set it down and say “stay, stay”. Does it stay? Like the mind, not much chance of that. It gets up, it goes around, you pick it up, you put it on the paper again, “stay, stay” over and over and after a while the puppy starts to figure it out. Well, we’re slower than puppies in that regard. But it’s possible. It’s the very returning of the puppy to the paper, it’s actually the coming back when we know that we’re away, gathering our attention and saying over and over again “Thinking”, bringing the body and the mind together in this moment over and over that starts to train us.
Now one other thing that the image is helpful for is for those of us who have trained a puppy before…is it a great idea to beat the puppy? Similarly for us, we might see judgmental thoughts come, like “I can’t do it”, and “This isn’t working right.” We find the mind’s habit of judging and beating. It doesn’t help at all to beat the puppy or ourselves. You just pick the puppy up gently and bring it back to the next breath; “stay, stay” or rather “thinking, thinking”, and try it again for a couple of breaths. That’s all. It’s that simple. And gradually you begin to connect with the breath.