SnakemanI received this question from an audio course user, and it reminded me of a very important point to be made, so here goes:

“Hi Roger … been using your audio course and what you say makes so much sense, and in the first couple of weeks I really felt like I was getting somewhere, and even though my mind was not calm, I could feel my body responding to the meditation, and it was beautiful. But then for some reason meditation seemed to get harder.  I don’t know why.  I found it harder and harder to sit, until one day I stopped.  Ever since then I’ve been trying to resume my meditation but I just can’t seem to make the time. It’s not that I don’t have time.  I do. But somehow it just gets filled with so many other things. Old habits I suppose, as you said. So I’m wondering if there is some magical hint you can give me to help me slot meditation more firmly into my life as a new habit.”

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We live in an atmosphere of chatter – texts, mobile conversations, transmitted noise of every kind – where traffic, radio, television and advertising scream at us from almost every direction, endless and utterly distracting. With our attention beset from every direction we use stimulants to keep pace – coffee, tea, whatever it takes, with our hormonal system passing variously through waves of anger, elation, boredom and panic as we sprint through an average day.

 Then, with our mind and body still jangling from the day, we  come home and sit down to meditate – ad we expect the noise to suddenly stop.  We expect to instantly find the profound calm that we’ve heard about – the calm and tranquil bliss we yearn for, which meditation is purported to create.

But it doesn’t happen.

Instead we find our body is a tangle of aches and tension, the mind chattering and babbling in endless circles and we feel so distracted that even sitting still is an anxious experience.

So we blame ourselves – we think we’re not meditating the right way.  So we swap methods or change what we’re doing.  But that only leads to confusion. Or we might try harder to concentrate; to make the method work – but that only makes us even more tense.

So after struggling for a while, we stop because “it’s not working anymore”.

And so dies a meditation practice.

But what we forgot to see in our self blame and panic, was how ridiculous it is to expect instant tranquility and calm, when almost every life habit we’ve learnt runs counter to those qualities.

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Essentially we’re made of habits.

One could say that habits is all we are. We are who we are because we learnt to be that way. We learnt to like some things and not like other things. We learnt certain abilities and skills.  Even our genetically inherited talents and predispositions are habits developed over the lifetimes of our ancestors and given to us.

As such, in the mad, frenetic world we live in, the habits we need to survive are to do with action, competitiveness and aggression.   This is what we were taught in school and at home – to be successful in an aggressive, competitive world.

Think about it – when in your life have you ever been encouraged to stop everything and be still?  For most of us, including me, that would be ‘never’.

So how ridiculous is it then, to expect our mind and body, creatures of habit both, to suddenly stop and be calmly, peacefully happy to be still in meditation.

This is why I tell people, if you want to experience calm and bliss in meditation, then change your lifestyle and your environment, renounce everything you know as ‘life’ and become a monk or a nun.  Because that’s the only place where you will be able to unravel the tight tangles of hyperactive habits you have developed in this life and experience the tranquil bliss that most meditation books so misleadingly rave about.

Otherwise you must let go of your expectations of bliss. Let go of calm and peace.

If you meditate with the expectation of calm and peace you will only tie yourself in knots trying to force them to happen – which is as futile as trying to stop a river by thrashing at the water with your hands.

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So then, this begs the question, “If calm and bliss and tranquility are off the table, why the hell am I meditating?”

Well, here we come upon the magnificent paradox of meditation, which is, the more we accept everything that is wrong, painful stressful and disturbing in meditation, the more stillness appears.  And with stillness comes peace, and calm and tranquility.

They lie in the core of the storm we usually try to run from when we meditate.

Which is why, when we meditate, we must stop running from the storm of ourselves. We must turn around, and walk back into the storm, and accept it, and be with it.  And stillness will appear.

Because stillness is not predicated on silence or lack of activity.  Stillness does not need a snug, silent, dimmed room.  It does not need a peaceful mind or lack of thoughts or nice feelings.

Stillness simply needs awareness and acceptance of what is.  Right now.  What is actually happening.

Be aware and accept and stillness will appear – no matter whether you’re sitting by a noisy polluted freeway among a crowd of screaming maniacs – if you’re aware of what is happening now, and accept it wholly – stillness will appear.

And with stillness will come tranquility and calm.

Stillness occurs when the mind develops the ability to process its immediate experience and watch from a distance all at the same time.  This is detachment. This is mindfulness –  the skill we are teaching ourselves with meditation methods. With mindfulness, it doesn’t matter how excited or depressed we might be, a part of us will always be still and stable within the storm.

So it’s extremely important that you let go of the notion of ‘calm’, and accept the truth of what you have become – always.  Accept the mental noise, ticks and twinges and aches and pain, and see them for what they are – residual effects of the kind of life we lead. Nothing more.  And the storm of thinking they create – simply smoke from their fire.

In observing the way our mind and body resonate with the effects of our environment and lifestyle, we develop mindfulness.

And with mindfulness comes stillness – a peculiarly luxurious kernel of equilibrium, equanimity and stability within the storm, within which we see things as what they are – whether pleasure or pain, everything is simply a temporary state in a continuum of change.  From this point of stillness comes wisdom.

So when all the aches and pains and thinking arises in meditation, change your view of them.

These things are not distractions; nor are they impediments to the meditation. They are opportunities.  The mind and body presents these things to you, saying, “Here, this is what you are right now – deal with it!” And if you accept what is happening, no matter how unpleasant, while withholding the compulsion to react – if you contemplate these things and allow them their brief dance within you, they will pass away quite quickly and you will be released from them.

But if you cling to some imagined conception of calm – of how you think meditation should be – if you try to use meditation to hide from the current reality of what you have become, then all your habits will beat harder at your door.  The aches and pains will get worse, the thoughts louder and meditation will become more impossible.

So always, always accept what is here now.

This is not to say you participate in it – not at all.  The methods are designed to help you ride the storms of your Self like a surfer – they help you to be aware and accept and let go.    So keep practicing, using the mediation methods to stay afloat.

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The other aspect of meditation you must remember,  there is in the initial stages, a purification effect which can seem as if the meditation ‘is not working’.

This purification effect comes into play as soon as we  begin meditating effectively. In the new awareness that we’re developing, all the mental and physical anxiety that’s been lurking beneath the surface of our conscious mind begins to arise and we become conscious of it.

And our first reaction is surprise – we think somehow the meditation is not working, or even that it’s creating the thinking and pain. But it’s not.  Al that’s happening is, in the storm of our life, we lost conscious awareness of old anxieties and physical tensions – we forgot them.  And now, in the peace and awareness of meditation, they’re rising up to be known accepted and let go of.

So do just that.  Be aware, accept and let go and these things will quickly pass away.

And most importantly … keep meditating. It’s an adventure that never ends.

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