"For me, it is an axiom that meditation is not so much about being with the breath every single second. That is very difficult and can only be achieved in very specific circumstances. But this does not mean the meditation of coming back is not effective.
You could have a thousand thoughts, and a thousand times you will have the opportunity to come back. You can make the choice to come back at any time, and it will diminish the power of the mental habit. So cultivation is the coming back, again and again, to the breath. It is not useful to think only about the effect of meditation, because that is a slippery slope. Better to focus mainly on cultivation.
When we come back to the breath, we come back to experience. It’s very important to see that when attention goes off, it generally goes into abstraction. In abstraction we are ignoring reality instead of being in the fullness of experience, which is where our creative potential can come out and express itself. We all know we have a brain, we have a certain kind of emotional system related to the heart, we have a body, and we have sensations that go with it. All this is not going to stop. But there is a difference between what I would call creative functioning within those potentials of thinking, feeling, and sensation, and being stuck in them and feeling you can’t get out. Concentration brings back the mental, emotional, and physical patterns to the creative functions of mind, body, and heart.
An image of what concentration does is that of a glass with muddy water. If you shake the glass, the water gets muddy and you can’t really see through it. But if you leave the glass alone for a bit, the mud goes to the bottom and the water at the top becomes clean. This is the basic idea of concentration: if things are not so agitated and they settle down, then you can see more clearly and there can be more space for you to see. Over time meditation develops space around our thoughts, around our feelings, and around our sensations."
Martine Batchelor from "Breaking Free with Creative Awareness"
Insight Journal Winter 2008
Martine Batchelor is the author of Meditation for Life, The Path of Compassion, Women in Korean Zen, and Let Go: A Buddhist Guide to Breaking Free of Habits. She teaches at Gaia House in England and also world-wide, and lives in southwest France.