I was meditating with my eight-year-old daughter yesterday. She was sitting on my lap while our dog circled us, looking for attention.
"Just ignore him," I told her. "He'll settle down if we don't pay any attention to him."
Just like our thoughts. If we don't pursue them--in life and during meditation--they will fade, taper off on their own. Don't feed them and soon the thinking mind, ever in pursuit of some new shiny trinket of thought, will move on to the next idea, the latest story.
Repeat as necessary.
Sure enough, the dog soon settled down into his bed next to us.
Within a few minutes my daughter looked up to me and whispered, "I think that I'm done."
"Sure," I said. About ten minutes earlier she had decided that she wanted to meditate, and now she was finished. There was no pressure for her to continue. She was done when she was done.
She stood up and padded out of the room. Inevitably, the dog bounded after her.
Again I couldn't help but smile at the fickleness of the dog. In the East they call the tendency to chase objects, experiences, and thoughts, "monkey mind." Since monkeys aren't common in the West, I think that "puppy mind" is more helpful.
A puppy cannot maintain focus for more than a few moments, as my ten-month-old puppy constantly reminds me. Any distraction becomes an imperative to possess, sniff, or taste. A new person walks into the room and you are no longer important; gaining that person's attention is now the puppy's highest priority.
And that's how the human mind works: it is perpetually on the prowl for the next best thing, the latest colorful object or thought, something to fixate on and then abandon.
Trying to learn from the dog's exit, I turned my attention back to what was actually in front of me, to what was real and not just imagined: speckled carpet illuminated by the fading glow of twilight. My body felt relaxed and my mouth was dry. The television chattered in the other room.
The Great Way is always open and available. It's just a matter of paying attention to what is really in front of us. Come back to that, over and over and over--to this breath, this life.