"To maintain a center for the mind, you have to enjoy it. If you don't, it simply becomes one more burden to carry in addition to your other burdens, and the mind will keep dropping it when your other burdens get heavy.
This is why we spend so much time working on the skill of playing with the breath, making it comfortable, making it gratifying, making it fill your body with a sense of ease. When you have that kind of inner nourishment to feed on, you're less hungry for things outside. You don't need to feed on the words and actions of other people. You don't have to look for your happiness there.
When you can develop a sense of inner fullness simply by the way you breathe, the mind can stay nourished no matter what the situation. You can sit in a boring meeting and yet be blissing out and nobody else has to know. You can watch all the good and bad events around you with a sense of detachment because you have no need to feed on them.
It's not that you're indifferent or apathetic, simply that your happiness doesn't have to go up and down with the ups and downs of your life. You're not in a position where people can manipulate you, for you're not trying to feed on what they have to offer you. You've got your own source of food inside.
At the same time, when you have an inner center like this to hold onto, you develop a sense of dissociation from the thoughts that arise within the mind. You realize when you're focused on the breath and a thought comes into the mind it's not necessarily //you// thinking or //your// thought, and you're not necessarily responsible for it. You don't have to follow it and check it out or straighten it out. If it comes in half-formed, just let it go away half-formed. You don't have to be responsible for it.
This is another important skill, because if you can learn to step back from the thoughts and emotions that come into the mind and not say that this is //my// thought or this is //my// emotion, then you can really choose which ones are worth holding onto, which ones should be explored, and which ones should be let go, that you don't have to deal with at all. Some people may say that that's irresponsible, that you've got to check everything out. "Well, that's just what they say. What do they know?": That's the kind of attitude you have to develop.
As the Buddha said, his own practice really got started in the right direction when he divided his thoughts into two types: skillful and unskillful. What this means is having the ability to step back from your thoughts and look at them not in terms of their content, but in terms of where they take you. If you have thoughts motivated by greed, anger, delusion, passion, aversion, confusion, boredom where do they take you? Well, they don't take you to nibbana, that's for sure. They don't take you where you want to go, so you decide to dissociate from them.
You don't deny that they exist, for that would just drive them underground. You admit their existence but you realize that you don't have to follow them. You can let them go, and they pass away from the mind. Meanwhile, you latch onto more skillful thinking either that, or you learn how to let go of thoughts and just keep the mind still where it doesn't have to think. This is where you gain a sense that you're more in control of your mind, that you're not subject to everything that comes passing through."
From: Skills to Take with You by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
For Free Distribution, as a gift of Dhamma, from Access to Insight and Thanissaro Bhikkhu
With metta / Antony.