Why is it so hard to meditate regularly? Students usually don’t ask this question in their meditation groups, fearing, perhaps, that they might be the only ones with this concern. I still struggle with having consistent, regular meditation, and I have been at this for 37 years.
But I have noticed that I don’t have any self-punitive feelings about this anymore. I find myself more and more happily present with however I find myself, just as I am.
And I have meditation to thank for this.
It’s taken a while to get over this “meditator’s guilt” as Jason Siff puts it – a kind of shame some folks feel when they have trouble meditating regularly, feeling all meditators should meditate every day. We can feel guilty that we are not meditating enough, or well enough, or not living up to some ideal that gets formed in the culture of meditation.
So folks either give up, or keep plodding away out of a sense of duty, which, unfortunately, can bring more torment than tranquility.
wanting a different experience than the one we are having
The issue is we find ourselves wanting to have a different experience in meditation other than the one we are having. For example, folks are often drawn to meditation out of a desire to feel better in some way. If we meditate with this desire to feel good, we selectively internalize that meditation is all about feeling good, calm, and peaceful.
And when we don’t feel calm or peaceful, we can get frustrated, even agitated.
Despite repeated encouragement to relax and let go of our ideas about meditation, and our fantasies of how we should feel when it works, it can take a while for this to really sink in.
being radically OK with where we are
Crucial to the practice is being radically OK with ourselves just as we are in the present moment. In doing so, we also let go of the notion of self-improvement.
Mindfulness meditation often starts out by working with an uncooperative and rebellious mind. You know this mind-it’s the one that spaces out, goes into la-la land, feels anxious, and wants out.
It’s the mind that opens its eyes during group meditation, looks at the clock, and says “Ugh, ten more minutes!”
the edge of our discomfort
Mindfulness takes us right up to the boundaries of our physical and emotional discomfort. But it allows us to be OK there, to settle down, and lose the fear.
The Burmese teacher Sayadaw U Tejaniya repeats this over and over in many different ways – being mindfully present with whatever arises, experiencing it with equanimity, acceptance, non-identification, kindness, and compassion, develops the wisdom to see things as they really are, not just as they appear to be, and with this understanding comes the end of suffering.
letting go of wanting
Folks who meditate in order to feel better often find the opposite of what they expected. But if they hang in there they find that instead of “getting” happiness or relief from stress, it’s the letting go of the wanting of happiness, or whatever, that actually liberates them from all suffering.
This is a huge turning point in their practice – the more they let go, the happier they are. They can see that ultimate liberation is the ultimate letting go of everything.
Saydaw U Tejaniya gets the last word this week:
There is no way you can rush progress in meditation. We can only proceed steadily. But we don’t stop either. How much you do, how skillful you are, how much you are able to do, the benefits of that are already accruing, are already present. When you understand this then the greed to get more, to do better, to get a certain result, will not arise.
Wishing you well on this wonderful journey.
Katina and I are here to support your meditation practice in any way we can, just contact us through the Contact Page on this site. Or if you live in Honolulu, or ever visit, feel free to drop by our free, weekly meditation evenings.