Today, as every day, I sit and watch the breath. I try to maintain my attention from the very beginning of the inbreath to the very last moment of the outbreath--each breath from birth to death. It's hard. My mind has many things to divert it, many threads to follow, many things to worry over. I watch it go to work, and each time it wanders, try to reel it back in. For a couple of moments, for a couple of minutes even... success!
Then off it goes again. Sometimes I catch it sooner, sometimes later. Sometimes I only notice it has wandered off minutes later. Then the judgments come: how come you can't make a better job of this, when you've been doing it for ten years? My mind jumps at them: something to get its teeth into. Great.
So, no, it's not about leaving your mind at the door, along with your shoes, as Christopher Hitchens too easily assumes. It's not about blissing out and escaping the mind. For me, it's about teaching the mind to do exactly what I want it to do, about harnassing the power of the mind by training it to focus and concentrate.
I'm finding myself, eventually, irked by Hitchens's glib dismissal of all spiritual exercise, along with all religion. I suspect an inner rage that pushes him further than even reason wants to go--the result, perhaps, of some as yet unhealed, unacknowledged wound. There's a lot of old emotional crap encrusted around his arguments, which somehow become personal, arrogant, even hateful.
Still, his book is a "good read," perhaps in part because it is unrestrained by the usual socially-sanctioned politenesses and tolerances around another man's religion. Raw intolerance makes for tough, sinewy prose, a refreshing change from that mealy-mouthed habit of tiptoeing around the feelings of everyone who might possibly be offended. Worth a try.