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Peter Clothier

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Still the Mind

Posted: 05/13/09 03:10 PM ET

Those who have taken any interest in Buddhist teachings will already know that there are many different approaches to the dharma. For those who also enjoy the listening experience there is a pleasure in store in the form of a new release from Sounds True, a double CD offering by Bodhipaksa called Still the Mind.

Okay, let's first get a little bit of exotica out of the way. Bodhipaksa hails originally from Scotland, and brings with him, even after a number of years in the U.S., the delightful hint of a remaining Scottish accent. Combined with a wonderfully gentle, mellow intonation, his voice itself is enough to charm the ears off his listener. Its calming effects seem in themselves almost enough to "still the mind."

So that's a nice bonus. But that's certainly not the meat of the matter, because Bodhipaksa also has an impressive understanding of the dharma, which he shares with the ease of one who is comfortably familiar with his material. There's no straining, here, for definitions or for explanations, just an easy flow of thought which invites close attention without demanding mental gymnastics.

The first of the two CD's, Session 1, takes us from "Starting Where We Are," through an introduction to those "Five Hindrances" that so often come along to stand in the meditator's way, to a discussion of "Mindfulness" and a invitation into "Calm Abiding," where the mind finds stillness. Along the way, Bodhipaksa guides his listener through short, two-minute sessions of breath-counting meditation in preparation for the second disk, Session 2, which is essentially two half-hour guided meditations. His approach is to move from numbering each breath after the outbreath to numbering each breath after the inbreath, to letting go of the numbering altogether -- abiding in stillness -- while quietly observing the different qualities of each as we proceed.

I have no doubt that "Still the Mind" would be a wonderful introduction to meditation for the beginner. But I'd also like to stress that even for a moderately experienced (though still very much amateur!) meditator like myself -- and for anyone who shares with the vast majority of we humans an insatiably busy mind -- Bodhipaksa is a confident guide who provides fresh insights into the process of calming it down for long enough to watch it working, and teach it healthier habits.

The meditation experience can take numerous forms: it can be a constant battle, and difficult, hard work: it is often demanding, sometimes intensely boring; and even painful -- or all these things together. Bodhipaksa's special gift (one of them, let's say) is to show us how the experience can also be a deeply pleasurable one.