In the practice of Mahasati insight meditation, we develop the faculty of being able to observe what is occurring in the body and mind without any judgment and without adding anything to what we are experiencing. Not judging means not saying to oneself that this should or shouldn’t be here. Whatever is here in this body and mind, in this present moment, is what’s here. Not adding anything means not thinking about and creating a story around what we are experiencing. It also means holding back on our usual habit of continuously taking ownership for mental and physical phenomena by believing “this is my physical pain, my thought, or my emotion.” We are practicing being able to simply observe it all as natural phenomena that is occurring in the moment to moment unfolding of this body and mind.
There was a small pond near my house when I was growing up. As a child, I used to love to play near the pond and try to catch tadpoles and frogs. This was always much more difficult than it looked. When I would first arrive at the shore of the pond, the water was always crystal clear, and you could easily see the numerous tadpoles and small fish that lived beneath the surface. But as soon as I stuck my hand in the water, the tadpoles would scurry and kick up clouds of sediment from the bottom such that it immediately became impossible to see anything. And, once that happened, there was nothing you could do to make the water clear again other than waiting for the sediment to settle naturally. You couldn’t push the sediment back to the bottom; you just had to let nature itself clarify the water once again. I’ll probably pay a karmic price for terrorizing those small creatures, though I certainly meant them no harm, and was even certain that if I caught one, we would become close friends.
It occurs to me there is a simile here between how the crystal-clear pond water clouded when I tried to grab a tadpole, and how the mind also goes from clear to deluded when a self tries to grasp on to something. Like the clear pondwater, the mind is originally crystal clear and without any suffering. When one observes a mind whose sediment has not been recently stirred, one sees nature unfolding within it. Whatever activity is taking place in that mind is immediately and clearly seen. It is recognized as impermanent (anicca), as not worthy of being clung to (dukkha), and as not-self (anatta) – just as the movement of the aquatic life is clearly visible before the child inserts his hand into the pond and the sediment is disturbed.
Some people believe that the body and mind must be still in order to be clear, but this is not correct. When I would first arrive at the pond, there was plenty of activity going on in the water, and it was all clearly visible. The water was crystal clear until I tried to grab something. In much the same way, the body can move, and the mind can think thoughts and feel and perceive without producing clouds of sediment. It is only when we try to own the phenomena in the body and mind, like a child trying to own a tadpole, that the clouds of delusion are stirred, and suffering arises.