How to Pacify a Busy Mind

Here is a brief practice, based on a traditional Buddhist meditation called Black and White, to pacify and purify a busy mind. The idea is simple – visualization is combined with breathing meditation to clear the mind of distracting content. We can use this method whenever the mind becomes disturbed by unskillful or impure content. It can also be used at the beginning of (or during) any regular meditation session when the mind is particularly busy.

At first, the success of this practice may depend on one’s existing powers of concentration, but over time the practice itself will improve those powers. In fact, this can be a useful exercise for those who are already working to improve their concentration, either through traditional meditation practices, secular mindfulness approaches, or other means.


1.       Preparation: Begin with a few rounds of breathing meditation, inhaling and exhaling while focusing on the sensations of the breath. Don’t worry about any other mental activity just yet. Because the breathing meditation provides the foundation for the visualization, just focus on establishing a firm awareness of the breath before moving on to the next step. (Note that breath awareness itself may pacify distracting mental activity, so feel free to stay with the breathing meditation alone, or move on to the visualization.)

2.       Visualization: Now imagine that all of the distracting mental activity present in your mind assumes the form of black smoke deep within your lungs. Then, with a strong wish to eliminate it, exhale gently through the nostrils, imagining that all this black smoke rises from the bottom of your lungs, leaves through the nostrils, and disappears into space. Feel completely clean within. Now as you slowly breathe in, imagine that you are inhaling purifying white light. This light fills your body and mind and you feel completely pure.

3.       Continuation: Continue to mount this visualization of black smoke and white light upon the exhalation and inhalation of the breath, repeating the cycle as many times as you wish, or until the mind is completely pacified of all distraction and has become pure and single-pointed.

Although it may be difficult at first to keep the visualization synchronized with the breath, this becomes easier with practice. By engaging in the Black and White meditation, we are building the muscle of our concentration so that all of our efforts toward contemplative, meditative, or concentration techniques become more fruitful, leading to greater clarity and peace of mind.

Thanks to Ian Iott for the Creative Commons photo.