The Wavelike Nature of Progress in Meditation
There seems to be a pattern to some people’s relationship with meditation, and it goes a bit like this:
1. Enthused by the novelty of it all, they go at it like a bull at a gate.
2. Results don’t instantly occur, so they begin to lose interest.
3. They give up and tell other people it’s very hard.
And as a meditation trainer, this pattern frustrates the hell out of me , because every time someone gives up, I can see they’re usually stopping right at the moment their practice is beginning to progress. Trouble is, they don’t know they’re progressing. All they know is, meditation seems ‘not to be working’ . But it is. And if only they kept on going, they would see how change occurs.So the following extract is about progress – not just in meditation, but in anything – and how important it is to understand the way progress occurs, and keep going. The passage is from from my book, ‘Love & Imagination’ which is the course manual for the Practical Meditation Audio Course, for which this blog is the Q&A facility.
“Our greatest glory was not in never falling, but in rising when we fell.” – Vince Lombardi
In nature all things develop in waves. From the growth spurts of a flower or a child to the movements of share markets, to the ebb and flow of the ocean – everything has a similar wavelike form of progression and regression.
This ebb and flow exists with the development of any skill, particularly sport and meditation, which I see as being similar processes. For instance, any athlete who trains regularly will tell you that when they first began training, their progress was rapid and easy. Then, after a week or two, the easy phase was followed by what is commonly called ‘a plateau’, where progression seems to stall. Performance which previously improved by the day suddenly peaks and it feels as if the energy and abilities they took for granted before have disappeared. At this point training feels hard and fruitless. No matter how they try, their previously effortless progression seems irretrievably halted.
The next stage is even worse.
They experience a period of ‘regression’, where everything they achieved before apparently seems to fall to pieces. Performance falls even more and their body feels more clumsy and un-coordinated than before.
But every great athlete learns if they just keep going, without panicking or exhausting themselves by over-trying, a new phase of effortless progression will inevitably appear and, like a phoenix rising up from the flames of its old self, they will feel renewed and confidant once again. Their performance will progress past previous peaks and their ability will surges to new highs as the wave picks them up – until the next plateau and regression.
And this is the way it will always be.
In any endeavour, whether it is your career or training for a sport or meditating, this wavelike pattern of progression will be the norm. A case in point is the writing of this book – I’ve noticed a natural ebb and flow of my inspiration and ability over the years it has taken. And it was the same with my other books. Sometimes the ideas flow like liquid gold, only to be followed by times when I could not think of a thing to say; where sentences collapsed into incoherent mush and my mind felt leaden. At those times I had to remember to take a break, have a nap, meditate, or go out and do something else.
But I always come back. I keep going, and sure enough things always change, and once again ideas and words gain wings. What is important in times of plateau and regression is your attitude. During these times it’s too easy to collapse into self-blame and castigation; to begin looking for excuses to give up – and in my time teaching meditation, I’ve heard them all: “I’m not disciplined enough”; “I’m trying as hard as I can”; “I’m sorry but I don’t seem to be much good at this …” and so on.
In all of these excuses I often feel the presence of some tyrannical adult from their past – a father or mother, or a teacher or peer, to who they are still making excuses to for ‘failing’ at some time when they were children. I keep impressing upon these people the same thing: There is no failure in meditation! Whatever happens is merely another part of the process. So long as you keep practicing, the process of meditation will take you where you want to go.
When the going gets tough just try to remember that things always change in meditation:
And sometimes you will feel in control and sometimes you won’t.
Sometimes there will be calmness and clarity, and sometimes there won’t.
Sometimes you’ll feel confident and meditation will seem pleasant – and sometimes it won’t and you’ll feel totally inept.
Sometimes, just as you feel as if you’ve reached a peak, suddenly you will be in a valley.
Remember – all these phases are normal, not just for meditation, but for the building of any skill in a life.
So whenever you find yourself a little lost or challenged in meditation, refrain from kicking your Self. Accept your difficulties with good humor and keep going. Keep plodding along, no matter how clumsy or confused you feel. It’s all you can do.
In this, routine (to listen to my post on routine) is very important.
And I guarantee, if you just keep going as best you can, with patience and compassion for your conditioned self, you will certainly arrive.As the famous theater director, Peter Brook once said:
“Never stop. One always stops as soon as something wonderful is about to happen.”
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
‘BEING STILL’ is available on Amazon as a paperback ……………. AUD $26.40 (incl. GST)
‘BEING STILL’ is also available as a Kindle ebook ………………………………………..AUD $11.99
‘BEING STILL’ the audiobook (including all exercises) ………………………………. AUD $25.00
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)
Once again thank you Roger. I’ve come through all the stages you wrote of and re-enter them regularly.
Like a wave? indeed it issome times we hardly notice the progress until a crisis happens; be it illness, loss or some other life events. Only then can we see that fruits of meditation, for when emotional anguish hits hardest we see the resilience that paying attention gives us.
Maybe the key to mindfullness is learning what I call “gentleness in action”, to oneself and then others. we cant be perfect in thoughts, words and actions but our efforts are worth while, I firmly believe in that.
Yes, I think the key word is action … there is this misconception that meditation is doing nothing – but though stillness is the objective, we do battle with everything that stands in its way – all the conditioned fidgets and twinges and tics, and all the habits. Maha Boowa, one of Thailand’s most famous monks once said, ‘the meditation practitioner is a warrior of the mind’ and that’s where your notion of ‘gentle action’ is very apt.