In practice, there needs to be balance between proactive applications and relaxation.
The proactive applications consist of creating something or placing the mind onto an object such as body or breathing. You can do that by lifting your attention with a thought: ‘Where is the body now? … Where is the breath now? … What is breathing out like now?’ You deliberately bring that thought up. That’s why we say it’s more active. When you’re walking, thought can be useful too. You could say, ‘Now I’m going to stand … and now I’m going to walk … which part of the foot touches the ground first?’ You’re lifting your attention onto an object so that it’s not continually snagging and being dragged into unhelpful memories, thoughts and feelings.
The other main approach is relaxing, giving things space, not applying pressure, which gives a sense of clarification. As we feel ourselves tensing up or getting tangled, we consciously let things pass, let things fade, simply with an out-breath and the very attitude of relaxing, softening. For clarity, your primary means would probably be using the mind like an eye: you’re ‘watching’ your body, thoughts and feelings. The watching sense provides a sense of space: you are standing beside what’s going on, rather than being thrown around in it. That objectivity gives you clarity.
So you’re using the body to lift your attention onto a supportive theme and also to relax the pressures and energies that come up when the mind is still swinging around looking for some ground, for something to feed on or settle in – when it’s caught up in that chaotic movement. You’re lifting the mind when it gets dull, raising it onto something clear that it can focus on. Before walking, you can ask yourself, ‘How does each leg move?’ And if you find yourself losing ground or feeling unstable, you can stop in the middle of your walking path and take the time for stabilizing, letting things rest, before walking again.
In times when the mind swings into emotional turbulence, our relationship with it may be benefited more by just listening, widening the listening sense. Both qualities of watching and listening have the sense of non-reaction and non-proliferation. Mindfulness curtails the proliferation, the creation of more mental stuff. And if you keep practising in that way, things will calm down and those qualities of ‘watching’ and ‘listening’ will be your fundamental modes.
This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is from the book, The Most Precious Gift, (pdf) pp. 294-295.