Śamathā (pronounced shamatàa, shyinè in Tibetan) in Sanskrit means “calm abiding”. It is a state of mind in which the ruminative processes that afflict us are completely subsided, ensuring exceptional serenity and mental clarity. For all Buddhist schools, cultivating śamathā is the fundamental exercise of any eudemonic progress, of true psychophysical well-being.
The practices of śamathā consist in the improvement of samādhi, the tranquility produced by conscious attention on a chosen object. Looking at the picture below, the effect of this attentional effort is to put the reins (the attention) of the wild elephant (the unconscious mind) back into the hands of the meditator (the awareness), instead of letting it be constantly distracted, launched in a wild gallop, driven by a hysterical monkey (which corresponds to mental afflictions regurgitated out of our subconscious, alāya in Sanskrit).
The refinement of samādhi is a gradual process that develops through a triple process: relaxation, stability and clarity. These three aspects can also be understood as three psychophysical states and are to be cultivated in each śamathā session.
Meditation begins with a relaxation phase, in which we free the mind from the velcro of rumination, of subconscious mental processes, offering it as a hold a pre-established object, for example the breath. Often the ruminative current is so strong that it continually drags our attention away. Relaxation is complemented by stability (or rather stabilization): through a continuous effort of perspective memory we release ourselves from the ruminative velcro and return with attention to the breath (or chosen object), without trying to block the current of the river of the subconscious, but letting it flow in the background of our awareness. Continuously returning to the breath the power of the velcro of mental afflictions decreases and we are able to lengthen the time in which nothing distracts our awareness anymore. The effect of this growing stability is greater inner stillness and greater mental clarity which produces serene loy and which can be applied in everyday life.
The monkey (subconscious full of mental afflictions) distracts the elephant (distracted mind) chased by a meditator (awareness), the epilogue has it that the calmed elephant will follow the meditator (realization of the state of śamathā).