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 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 as conditioned reactions of boredom, expectation and frustration arise.
And that’s all well and good. If they keep meditating, using the meditation methods to pass through these things, they’ll eventually settle in and stillness will begin to happen.
But it’s here that we meet the most dangerous hindrance.
Because the first experiences of stillness are quite divine, even unworldly, they can be very intoxicating, such that we fall in love with them. We cling to the stillness because we don’t want it to stop. We think we’ve succeeded. 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’s not particularly meaningful. Nor is it exceptional. It’s simply the intoxication of a new experience – 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 will become used to it, and the intoxication will pass away.
At that point we have absorbed the stillness and made it a part of ourselves and our life. In other words, it’s become ‘normal’.
But if we cling to this wondrous initial experience, we’ll keep trying to make it happen every time we meditate – and this clinging is an innately anxious state, which ironically, will block any potential for stillness to occur in future.
And when we get stuck like that, is when doubts arise. Because the more we seem to fail in our efforts to create the extraordinary (and spurious) experience we had, the more we will think we’ve lost the ability to meditate. And inevitably, as we keep on ‘failing’, we will eventually give up.
There are many experiences to be had in meditation, both pleasant, unpleasant and mundane – but whether painful, pleasurable, or incredible, none of the experiences we have during meditation are important. Nor are they meaningful. They are like the view outside the window of a train – sometimes fascinating, sometimes un-notable.
What is most important is that we keep going – that we keep practising, training our mind to develop a habit of being able to let go of things as easily as possible. Only then, when we’ve learnt to let go of everything, fascinating or not, will stillness occur.
It’s for this reason I prefer to pinpoint the obstacles that lie along the path to stillness, than to describe the experience of stillness itself 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, or unpleasant, or mind-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.
‘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.)