The Trap of Wondrous Meditation Experiences
“Hi Roger … I notice in your book you deal with the presence of pain and anxiety and the lack of calm that most of us experience in meditation, but you don’t describe the stillness that is surely the goal of meditation. So my question is, why don’t you talk more about the good things that come out of meditation?”
And my reply:
You’re right, I do address the difficulties of meditation practice more than I do the rewards – for a good reason.
When most people begin practicing meditation, the problems are the same, in roughly four main areas.
- Their attention keeps losing itself in thinking.
- They discover layers of tension in their body they had not been aware of before.
- They become aware of emotional reactions they had not expected.
- They find it difficult to keep going through the conditioned reactions of boredom, expectation and frustration that arise.
And that’s all well and good. If they keep meditating, using the meditation methods to pass through these things, they will eventually settle in and stillness will begin to happen.
And it’s here that we meet the most dangerous hindrance.
Because the first experiences of stillness are quite divine, even unworldly, they can be quite intoxicating, such that we fall in love with it. We cling to the stillness because we don’t want it to stop. We think ‘at last, I’m here, this is meditation!’. We think that we’ve reached a higher state … and so on.
This is the point at which our practice is in most danger of being destroyed.
Because, as wonderful as the experience was, in reality, it is not particularly meaningful at all. It’s simply the intoxication of a new experience. It’s simply the elation of a mind that has never experienced stillness before. And if we keep meditating past this experience, with time, as the mind adapts to stillness, we become used to it and the intoxication will pass away. We have absorbed the stillness and made it a part of ourselves.
But if we cling to this wondrous experience it arrived with, the next time we meditate, we’ll be trying to make that experience happen again – and this clinging to what happened before is an innately anxious state, which ironically, blocks the potential for stillness to occur.
Which is when doubts arise. Because the more we fail in our efforts to create the extraordinary (and spurious) experience we had, the more we think we’ve lost the ability to meditate. And inevitably, as we keep on failing, we give up.
There are many experiences to be had in meditation, both pleasant, unpleasant and mundane – but whether painful or pleasurable, none of the experiences are important.
What is important is to keep practising, to gradually re-orient our mental habits to be able to let go of things as easily as possible.
Only then, when we’ve learnt to let go of everything, with our meddlesome attention peacefully at rest, does stillness occur.
It’s for this reason I prefer to pinpoint the obstacles that lie along the path to stillness than to describe stillness itself.
I avoid describing the ‘good stuff’ that can occur during meditation – because, as indescribable as these experiences can be, if I was to describe them, people would begin looking for them and their meditation practice would be ruined right from the start.
So remember this – whatever you experience in meditation, whether pleasant, unpleasant or min-blowing -, it’s not important – nor is it meaningful.
Everything you experience is simply another step on the path. Whatever it is, let it go and keep moving
‘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.)