An audio course participant wrote:
‘Hi, I’ve just begun meditating and I’m finding it quite a hellish experience. I can’t seem to find the calm I imagine should be happening. I end up sitting there waiting for the alarm to go off so I can stop. It’s very uncomfortable. Any suggestions?’
Life is activity.
We’re always reaching for something – something to do, something to achieve, somewhere to go, to make something happen. It’s our nature. To hunt, to create, find and cling to what is ours. This is our habit which we’ve built throughout our life and had instilled in us by our parents and society. Everyone can remember how one time or another we’ve been told, “don’t be lazy”, “the early bird catches the worm”, “up and at ’em” – all these aphorisms that have followed us through our life, always nagging and nudging us forward, making us slightly anxious if nothing is happening.
So it’s natural that when we sit down to meditate we will bring this action-habit with us – which is what turns meditation into such a difficult thing for us to do. Because meditation is the opposite of everything we have learned.
Where in our daily life we take action, in meditation we cease action.
In our lives we reach for goals and cling to outcomes, possessions, comfort and so on – but in meditation we let go.
We let go of everything. We let go of everything continuously.
So in the meditation environment, sitting in a motionless body for long periods of time, every life habit we’ve ever learnt just doesn’t work. So what do we do? In line with our habits we try harder to ‘make meditation work’. And that doesn’t work even more! Our mind having nothing to do, spins on the spot with anxiety and our body tightens in response, creating aches and pains that only get worse the longer we sit. We feel trapped between our anxious mind and our hypersensitive body and our natural response is a sense of existential claustrophobia that makes us want to leap to our feet and run screaming from the room.
Perhaps I’m exaggerating – though a lot of what I’ve just written here is what students in the past have described about their initial experiences with meditation – all because they bring the same habits to meditation as they use in their lives. And these habits just don’t work.
But we don’t know what else to do, because when have we ever been taught to let go?
When have we ever been taught to stop? To be still?
So it’s a very big ask to expect our conditioned mind and bodies to meditate.
So then, what are we to do? Our habits are so ingrained and so powerful, to fight them is fruitless. To expect to suddenly be able to be still after a lifetime of grasping and compulsive activity is absurd. Yet this is exactly what we expect when we meditate. We expect to somehow, magically, be someone else – someone calm, unconcerned and tranquil. And in bringing this expectation to meditation we deny and blind ourselves to the very reality we’re trying to change – the reality that we’re not calm unconcerned and tranquil.
So here is the first key to meditation – we must throw away our expectations.
As our conditioned mind and body struggle against meditation, we must accept things as they are. If there are aches and pains in the body, then we must accept them. If the mind is suddenly flooded with worries, memories and thinking, we must accept it.
In each moment, this is the first lesson of meditation – to accept things as they are.
Acceptance of things as they are is the first step toward change. Because it seems to be a law of nature that nothing can change unless it is first accepted as temporary reality. For example, in the practice of psychology, it is well known that one of the most pernicious aspects of depression is the patients resistance to it – their non-acceptance of depression actually extends and intensifies the symptoms. Only when depression is accepted, along with the pain and anguish it engenders, can the process of change begin.
Same with pain. It’s ironic that the more we resist the intensity of pain, tensing up around it, trying to resist its burn, the more ‘painful’ it becomes. Yet if we do the opposite and accept it fully, and relax around the reality of pain, it fades very quickly.
So too is it with the difficulties that arise out of our mental and physical resistance to meditation
The more we accept and fall into the apparent mess of thinking and physical discomfort that seems to be arising, the more quickly it passes.
Acceptance is an amazing thing.
And it cannot happen if we don’t first throw away our expectations of what we THINK should be happening. Because expectations are illusions of desire – projections of what we want, that blind us to what is actually here right now. And we cannot accept what is here right now, if we are blind to it.
So then … meditate with no expectation. Meditate like you’re on a journey into the unknown, cutting your way through jungle with no idea what surprises lie just ahead. And whatever happens, whether good or bad, accept it wholly, and deal with it as it is.
This is what the Mental Noting method is for.
As we notice each new surprise as it arises, we note it. A sound, we note ‘hearing’. A pain in our hand, we note, ‘pain’. A rising sense of sadness, we note ‘sadness’, or of happiness, we note ‘happiness’.
And each note signifies our awareness of what is happening now, as well as our a complete acceptance of it.
And what do we notice happening as we note these things?
We notice they begin to change – to either fade away or change into something else. The sound disappears, the pain fades away, the sadness dissipates, the happiness changes to a calm tranquility.
And the more we note what arises, the more we forget we are ‘meditating’ and lose our Self in what we’re doing. We become absorbed in what we’re doing and stillness appears like a surprise.
And when it first appears, perhaps our first reaction to it will be ‘Oh!’
At which point it will probably disappear. So the next challenge is to develop a relationship with stillness when t appears. Because it is like a timid bird that has landed on our hand.
But that’s another story … keep practicing.
- ‘Practical Meditation Audio Course’ – a complete set of meditation lessons to be downloaded as a package of MP3′s from www.sankhara.com