Accept the Struggle
It’s important you accept the struggle.
Don’t be conned by the articles about meditation you might have read in the commercial media, sprinkled with key-words like ‘calm’, and ‘relaxed’ and ‘freedom from stress’. They’re written by people who most likely have never meditated in any depth, or have been meditating for so long they have forgotten how hard it was for them when they first started.
It is natural to struggle with meditation when you begin – just as it is natural for you to struggle to learn any new skill. So it is essential that you engage with the struggle, because in meditation no effort is wasted.
Remember, contemporary Western culture has taught you habits that run counter to meditation. Nothing in our culture acknowledges the efficacy of stillness. Throughout our lives most of us have been kept on the move in the belief that busyness is indication of a productive life.
“Do something about it!” is the mantra of our restless lives, together with “get on with it!”, “get a move on!” and “go, go go!”
But now you want to be still.
So of course you will struggle.
Wen I first began Vipassana training, one of my teachers, Acharn Thawee, went to great lengths to impress on me that the meditation ‘experience’ is of very little importance.
Each day I would visit him for a short interview to report on my progress and receive instruction. And having come with all the cultural clichés in my head, that meditation should be calm and serene to be ‘successful’, and difficulty in meditation was ‘failure’ in some way, I worked hard looking for a calm experience in meditation.
But the harder I worked, the less calm I got and I couldn’t understand why.
Not only that, but I noticed Acharn Thawee wasn’t interested in my apparent successes with attaining a calm experience, as few as they were. On those rare days when I’d relate a triumphant tale of bliss, calm and tranquillity, he would listen without interest then flap his hand at me and tell me not to cling to these experiences.
Conversely, on the more numerous days when I’d arrive frazzled and weary from the struggle with my rebellious mind and body, he’d take great interest and tell me I was working well.
So one day I asked him why.
In his broken English he said (and I paraphrase): “When you are calm in meditation, you are only calm. It is easy, so you don’t learn. But when you suffer, you work hard, so you learn. It is not important to have calm meditation but it is important to have calm life. So you learn to be calm in your life by struggling in meditation.”
As I walked back to my hut to resume meditation, I felt a new energy. The Acharn’s words had removed a huge weight of expectation in me, and affirmed that which I had always thought was wrong – my struggle.
I realised that the view I’d always had of meditation (which had been reinforced by other meditation teachers) that it lead to an experience of calm and tranquility had been wrong. Worse, it had been setting me up for a sense of failure in meditation, simply because in looking for what I expected, I was not taking account of what was actually happening in the moment .
There is a paradox in meditation – and it is this:
The more you accept the struggle in meditation, the quicker it will resolve itself and disappear. Whereas, the more you fight the struggle, the more everything you struggle against will fight back.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)