Whenever I talk to people about meditation, especially people who are new to it, I tell them I’m rubbish at it. It’s a little exaggerated perhaps, but nevertheless a good reflection of how I often feel. I’ve been doing it at least once a day for over three years, but can’t shake the feeling that I’m not getting very far with it. This blog post looks at the familiar themes behind that feeling – expectation, judgment, comparison, the nature of progress, and the process itself – and concludes that I’m not rubbish at all. It’s all part of the meditation.
Expectations are best avoided because they serve no practical purpose and contribute nothing to the achievement of any goal. Further, they give rise too easily to frustration and disappointment. As with most people, I expect meditation to bring peace and calmness to my life. Instead, what normally happens is that I sit there for 20 minutes, distracted either by the pain in my body, my own impatience, or the torrent of thoughts which occupy my mind. Sometimes I’m happy to succumb to the distraction of thought, as it takes my mind off the discomfort and makes the time go more quickly.
Judgment and comparisons are equally pointless and painful. After three and a half years of daily practice I think I should be further along the path than I am. My assessment is a judgment. Other judgments include, ‘I’m not concentrating hard enough’, or ‘This should be easier. (It’s only meditation after all!)’ And the final kick in the teeth: ‘I’m sure others don’t have my difficulties!’ As if the pain in my legs were not enough, I pile on more with my own internal dialogue.
All the time I’m judging, I’m disregarding the nature of progress. In any endeavour, initial progress is always slow. Painfully slow sometimes. Once the initial novelty has worn off, it takes real effort, commitment, or just plain desire to be able to push through. Fortunately, even though I tell people I’m rubbish at it, I also tell them I’m building a solid foundation for the future, and that every minute helps to make meditation a little easier in the years to come. Which brings us onto the final point.
Why focus on the goal when it’s the process which is important? It’s only natural to desire a calm mind and ease in responding to life, but don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere. Were you to wake up one day and find yourself already at your destination, you will have been deprived the subtleties and achievement of overcoming. Appreciate the incremental steps, appreciate the difficulties. They define and shape your whole experience and show you how well you’re doing.
The very fact that these things come up as a consequence of meditation, validates its practice. The key is to observe, allow, and let go of whatever arises. Whether it be physical pain, impatience, or just a stream of unconnected thoughts, everything is a chance to practise letting go. That includes expectation, judgement, and comparison. So you see, I’m not rubbish at all. I’m just getting started.