I’ve got some bad news.
There are no quick fixes to be found in meditation.
It is true that there is almost immediate stress relief and joy to be found just from starting. Yet, once we settle in to a regular daily practice, we might find ourselves disappointed.
I’ve received a few emails that I want to share with the group. Themes are emerging like, “it doesn’t feel like it’s going well”, “I think I’m getting worse at this”, “it seems like I’m going crazy, all I can think about is….” and “I just can’t turn my thoughts off.”
A few thoughts:
- Don’t Ignore the 4 Alarm Fire: Zazen brings us into direct contact with what is happening in our mind. Remember, our practice isn’t an escape from reality. If we are fixated on something it is a good time to look at this area of our life closely and attend to it.
- Do Something About It: I share the example of being on retreat and being interrupted by thoughts about work tasks I forgot to do. I thought I was “meditating wrong,” but my teacher told me it sounded like I needed to be more organized at work. People also share about falling asleep while they try to meditate. “What am I doing wrong? Why do I keep falling asleep?” You aren’t doing anything wrong, you’re tired and you probably need to sleep more. There are no quick fixes, it takes time and effort to get our life in order.
- Sitting is Not the Goal, Living Our Life Fully Is. Please remember that we don’t attend to these out of balance areas in our life so we can have better meditation. We meditate so we can attend to these troubled areas. Let the clarity of your practice guide you to the important matters in your life. (Then see #2.)
- Meditation is Just One Tool: Many Western meditation practitioners are surprised when they start reading the Pali Canon, a collection of early scriptures in the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha doesn’t talk as often about meditation as one might suspect. When the Buddha began teaching the causes and end of suffering he offered up the 8 Fold Path as the solution. Meditation is only one of the following: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Meditation isn’t enough. We need a wholesome and balanced life in order to be free from suffering.
- You’re Getting Better at This: When we first start meditating we tend to be unaware of just how distracted we typically are. Continuing to practice exposes just how loud the noise truly is between our ears. It might feel like you are getting worse at focusing, but you are actually becoming more sensitive and aware of the distractions. Keep practicing.
- Lose the Expectation: Your meditation isn’t always going to be what you want it to be. It is just going to be what it is. I heard a friend say once, “an expectation is a resentment under construction.” You can’t be disappointed if you don’t have an expectation that it will be or feel a particular way.
- Be Gentle With Yourself: It is normal to think a lot about a lost loved one or to worry constantly about financial insecurity. Don’t beat yourself up. The practice of radical acceptance is a large part of what makes zazen such a valuable part of our lives. I’m okay. I’m enough. I’m doing just fine.
I hope this is helpful. I’m getting some great feedback from many of you. Please let me know how I can be helpful along the way.
You’re awesome. Just keep practicing!
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed.
P.S. Email me if you haven't attended our Sunday or Tuesday meditation groups yet and you'd like to call in. We meet at 8PM EST every week. (Included during the Superbowl!)
Recommended Reading: Mindfulness for the Masses
Quote of the Week: "When deliverance of the mind is not yet ripe five things lead to its ripening. What are they? Furthermore a monk engages in talk concerned with austerity, which is a help in opening the heart, which conduces to complete turning away, dispassion, cessation, peace, knowledge, awakening, [nirvana]: talk about wanting little, about contentment, about seclusion, about keeping to oneself, about stirring energy, about virtue, about concentration, about wisdom, about deliverance, about the knowledge and vision of deliverance. Such talk he obtains when he wishes for it, without difficulty and without trouble. This is the third thing that leads to the ripening of deliverance of mind when it is unripe.” The words of the Buddha from the Meghiya sutta, Udana 34-7 as translated by Sarah Shaw.