Our mind is often said to be like an untamed elephant, which moves freely wherever it likes and is beyond any control. It is like an elephant for several reasons. It is difficult to control, and it causes upset and upheaval wherever it goes.
Imagine we restrain the elephant with a strong rope to a solid wooden stake in the ground. The stake represents a fixed point of stillness – an eye in a storm. The rope represents mindfulness or memory. What will happen?
At first, because our elephant mind is not used to having to stay in one place, it will escape repeatedly because that its nature. It will break the rope easily and repeatedly. We will have to lead it back to the stake, and retie the rope many times. Once retied, the elephant mind will immediately strain at the rope again.
After a while, the elephant will stop pulling on the rope so much and just mooch around the stake. Sometimes while we are watching the elephant carefully, and it appears to be behaving itself, it will suddenly disappear off somewhere else in the blink of a mental eye.
But the more familiar we are with the practice of watching our mind, the more easily we will be able to keep our attention centred. Slowly, the elephant will not seem to want to wander, and eventually we can take the rope away. The elephant will not go far, and return almost by itself. In the end, the elephant will lie down next to the stake, and will rest there. It will find that for all its restless wanderings of the past, it can find no greater contentment than right there, in the stillness of contented rest.