Like a lot of people, when I first started meditating I thought it was such a big deal. I brought some very serious intention to it, believing I had to be disciplined and super concentrated in order to achieve whatever it was I imagined I should get out of it. This is a common but mistaken view, and quite predictable for anyone steeped in western culture, especially the American way of thinking. We have all been conditioned to believe that harder, faster, and more brings success and accomplishment. While it’s true that cultivating mindfulness takes practice and practice (of any skill) requires a certain level of devotion and determined effort, pushing hard and bearing down on the process just leads to exhaustion and more dissatisfaction. It’s helpful to remember that the Buddha’s first instruction for meditators is: Relax.
In my early attempts at meditation, I tried to make something happen, or stop it from happening. I struggled with the constant thinking in my mind, and I tried to either ignore or tame any physical discomfort I felt. I wanted to be good at meditating, so I tried really hard to manage my experience. Management was familiar to me; I had been rewarded for coordinating projects, classes, committees, my family life, and so on. Even though I understood intellectually that none of that was called for in meditation, that was nevertheless my default mode and so my early efforts reflected that perfectly.
I recognized this fairly quickly, however, and could see that I was just spinning my wheels. Even now, a dozen years later, I sometimes see the urge to change what’s happening or get to some other state of being, to make a big deal out of whatever arises. It’s a habit of thought, that’s all. What I continue to learn is how to simply note it and let it fall away.
The truth is, we don’t need to do anything with what we experience in any given moment. When we allow ourselves to simply be with whatever it is, that’s where the teaching is. And the beauty of this is that everything is a teacher. I wasn’t “wrong” to try so hard in my early attempts at meditating, because the minute I noticed what I was doing I learned something important about my approach to life. “Oh look. There’s the part of me that thinks she needs to control everything.”
I keep becoming more fascinated with the workings of my conditioned heart and mind. Among the many benefits of Insight meditation are an increased sense of balance and acceptance of the way things really are, an ability to meet life on life’s terms, no matter what is happening. That includes those moments where I am absolutely not accepting, not being balanced, and when I forget that meditation is no big deal.
It’s really so simple. All that is required is the willingness to open to Here. Now. This. We are free to begin again, and again.
Are you trying hard to meditate? How do you know?
Where are you holding effort in your body or mind right now? What happens when you let go and allow ease?
What happens when you allow yourself to turn toward Here, Now, This?