One day, a disciple and his teacher were walking through the forest. The disciple was disturbed by the fact that his mind was in constant unrest.
He asked his teacher: “Why are most people’s minds restless and only a few possess a calm mind? What can one do to still the mind?”
The teacher looked at the disciple, smiled and said, “I will tell you a story.”
“On one beautiful day, an elephant was standing by the shade of a tree, eating its leaves. Suddenly, a small fly came buzzing and landed on the elephant’s ear. The elephant stayed calm and continued to eat, not heeding the fly.”
“The fly flew around the elephant’s ear, buzzing noisily, yet the elephant seemed to be unaffected. This bewildered the fly, and it asked, ‘Are you deaf?’
“No!” The elephant answered.
“Why aren’t you bothered by my buzz?” The fly asked.
“Why are you so restless and noisy? Why can’t you stay still just for a few moments?” Asked the elephant, and peacefully continued eating the leaves.
The fly answered, “Everything I see, hear and feel attracts my attention, and all noises and movements around me affect my behavior.”
“What is your secret? How can you stay so calm and still?”
The elephant stopped eating and said, “My five senses do not disturb my peace, because they do not rule my attention.”
“I am in control of my mind and my thoughts, and therefore, I can direct my attention where I want, and ignore any disturbances, including your buzz.”
“Now that I am eating, I am completely immersed in the act of eating. In this way, I can enjoy my food and chew it better. I am in control of my attention, and therefore, I can stay peaceful.”
Upon hearing these words, the disciple’s eyes opened wide, and a smile appeared on his face. He looked at his teacher and said:
“I now understand! My mind will always be in constant unrest, if my five senses, and whatever is happening in the world around me, are in control of it. On the other hand, if I am in command of my five senses, able to disregard sense impressions, and able to control my thoughts, my mind will become calm, and I will be able to disregard its restlessness.”
“Yes, that’s right,” the teacher answered, “The mind is restless and goes wherever the attention goes. Control your attention, and you control your mind.”
Note: While this story puts forth a good understanding, it is incomplete. Yes, when we are wrapped up in only what our senses perceive, we will often be filled with unrest. However, we need Divine help to turn our attentions where they really need to be. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” If we ask God and trust him, he will help us to be still before him and wrapped up in him rather than the things outside ourselves that are troubling and disruptive to our peace.