‘A good meditation is one you have done.’
Even though meditation is now practised in all kinds of settings, from schools to hospitals to large corporations, it’s still often surrounded by a sense of the arcane. Someone who meditates might be seen as very ‘Zen’, engaged in some mysterious pursuit which evokes images of distant mountain caves; hermit monks who speak in strange riddles; spirits floating by on clouds, reaching nirvana and bliss. Because of these esoteric associations, it’s not easy to settle into meditation without some expectation that the next half hour should be calm, special, infused with joy. We would like to reach a state beyond the hum-drum ordinariness of our daily existence, perhaps become enlightened, or at the very least break through into some profound insight. If all goes according to plan, we will rise from our meditation cushions transformed, our every action from here on will be composed and mindful, and all our annoying neurosis will have once and for all been laid to rest.
What we tend to find in meditation, however, is our busy mind as busy as ever; our vast array of anxieties in all their glory; our distractedness gone even more berserk; and repetitive thoughts churning on and on and on. One day we might float in bliss, the next day wallow in our misery. Sometimes, half an hour will stretch on forever; other times we’ve drifted off and ended up writing the script to an entire soap opera spanning five years in our heads. We might have had a breakthrough during a recent retreat, and finally felt more connected to ourselves and others; but today, in our meditation, we once again feel empty and restless and alone. If we meditate over a number of years, certain themes might emerge which we seem to struggle with over and over again. Sure, we might approach these themes from different angles, and there might be a sense they no longer dominate our lives to the extent they once did; but, annoyingly, they never seem to quite go away and leave us alone.
Mindfulness meditation is being with life as it is – ordinary, challenging, and precious. There are no solutions. Over time, our perspective can become more open, but this ‘bigger picture’ awareness probably brings with it more questions than answers. Not being able to put our extravagant expectations aside is one of the greatest barriers to establishing an ongoing meditation practice. We have a daily shower without fantasising that this shower will leave us pure and clean forever – ‘once I’ve finished this shower, I’ll never need to have another one again!’ Meditation can be seen as a regular mental shower – it’s a helpful part of our daily routine, but so is eating breakfast, brushing our teeth, and putting a load of washing on.
‘A good meditation is one you have done.’ It’s a simple and as difficult as that.
Weekly practice idea:
Before meditation, pause for a moment and become aware of any expectations you might bring to the practice. If your meditation is restless, remind yourself this is simply part of the process.