When Meditation Becomes Hell
An Audio Course participant sent me a question about how meditation had changed, seeming to have become worse instead of better, painful instead of tranquil, as one would expect. So I have recorded a post in response, which is below.
But first, I’d like to say this:
There comes a time in even the most diligent meditation practice when everything seems to go wrong – when no matter what you do, it seems wrong. At these times, meditation seems only to tie you up in painful knots and the mind runs away with itself, seemingly mocking you for having even tried to change its mischievous ways.
Put simply, meditation becomes hell. And this is when many people stop.
But from my point of view, as a meditation trainer, this hellish development is an important stage in meditation – a challenge which everyone must pass through, to learn an important lesson.
And the lesson can be summed up in the language of the Buddha as ‘anicca’ … which literally means “inconstant, impermanent – “… that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is in a constant state of flux.” (wikipedia).
This is one of the central lessons of Buddhism – and most of our suffering in life occurs when we try to go against this fundamental truth – when we try to defy the constant river of flux that life is – when we try to go against change – to stop it, or divert it, or hide from it.
In so doing, we forget that this constantly changing universe is much bigger than us, or our will, and will eventually crush us unless we learn to let go of what we want, or expect – and go with the flow of things as they are.
In this, a famous Zen master by the name of Shunru Suzuki emphasised the importance of ‘beginners mind’ not just in meditation, but in life itself, saying: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” This refers to the idea that a beginners mind is in flow with things as they are. So as things change, the beginners mind is changing too, because it knows nothing except what it is experiencing now. But the ‘expert’ mind loses touch with change, because it has built ideas and theories and expectations about ‘how things should be’ – as such, the expert has lost touch with the fundamental truth of things – namely, that they will always change in ways that we cannot know, because the universe is too chaotic and complex to know them. So the expert is eventually bamboozled in a way that the beginner never is.
So before you listen to the audio post, I want to emphasize the fact that, all suffering as it appears in meditation, when you boil it down, you will see it comes from this single source – non-acceptance of change – from the loss of beginners mind – that somewhere, somehow, you have lapsed into expectation, or clinging, or resistance. And if you can find out how you are doing this, and then let go, the suffering will disappear.
As such, the method I will describe in the following audio post, though it will give short term comfort when meditation has become difficult, it is not the entire solution.
The lasting answer lies in searching out how you have lost beginners mind.
To listen to the Audio:
For those who are interested, you can download a PDF of Suzuki’s book HERE.