by Kali Shilvock.
Whether you’ve been meditating for years, you’ve tried it a handful of times, or you’ve never done it, I think it’s safe to say that most of you reading this have some ideas or associations formed around what it means to meditate, and why we (or anyone else) might choose to practice it.
Those associations around meditation become stronger, more personal, and much sweeter as we begin to shape and progress in our own practice. But within the process of discovering, building, and cultivating a practice, a lot of questions tend to bubble up. Those questions can have that “elephant in the room” feel to them. You know they’re there and that you’re certainly not the only one who has them, and yet somehow it can be incredibly challenging to take them somewhere and address them, to ask them aloud, or turn them into a conversation.
Here are some examples that immediately come to mind:
So, what exactly am I DOING? What’s the GOAL, what’s the point? How long do I meditate? What is supposed to be happening? Why does it feel like something I should do, and yet I seem to find every excuse to avoid giving it a go? Do I suck at this because I can’t sit still? Am I failing because my brain won’t shut up the whole time?
I by NO means would like to suggest that I am an “expert” on the matter of meditation. Far from it. But as someone who has transitioned from stern resistance to serious gratitude and deep appreciation for the practice, I want to share some thoughts around these questions for any that might identify with them, or with similar sentiments.
So here we go:
Our goal in meditation is to BE, in the rawest sense of “being”. We aim to get comfortable with the experience of taking a seat, coaxing awareness out of the external world, and getting acquainted with the endless depths and wonder of the internal one. We make a committed effort to take a seat and witness ourselves, and everything we’re carrying.
Sometimes, the experience of meditation is lovely. And sometimes it’s also incredibly unpleasant. Sometimes is gritty and confronting, sometimes it’s powerful and revealing, and sometimes it’s just, ‘meh?’. Sometimes we can, or will, sit for a few minutes. Sometimes we can, or will, sit for 10, 20, 30, or eventually even longer. Sometimes we’ll love it, and sometimes it will feel like a chore.
The thing is, none of these “measures,” or qualities, of any individual practice on any given day really mean much. What DOES translate to something meaningful is the committed effort to keep coming back. In the same way that a close, intimate relationship with a loved one is not the product of any one meeting or interaction, our meditation practice is a moving, shifting, evolving thing that we cultivate and develop over time. It is not because Friday’s meditation felt better than last Friday’s that your practice deepens. Rather, it deepens because every day within the span of that week, you committed effort to redirecting your awareness from the external into the internal, and stayed to witness all that you experienced there no matter how pleasant or unpleasant it was to look at. Each day, you took time to withdraw your energy and attention out of the seductive power of the five senses and the wonderous but ever-moving mechanism that is the brain, and placed it in the realm of consciousness. You sifted through a few more layers of all that sits on top of consciousness, of raw “being-ness,” and saw a little bit more of its brilliant, but elusive, peace and stillness.
And then there’s the matter of the mind. The mind likes to be in motion. And the pace of the world we live in only amplifies its momentum. When we sit in meditation, the mind may find a quieter, calmer state. It may also speed-race the entire time you sit. While this can be frustrating, rest-assured that this is a universal experience, and it is part of being a human. It is not the intention of practice to make the thoughts go away. It is rather, to let them come, but to practice the ability to not react or interact. We aim not to silence the thinking mind. Rather, we look to create, over time, a separation between the mind and its activity, and that which is purely and innately us. We have thoughts, but none of them are not in any way a part of who we are. We can choose to pick them up and give them attention, which fosters their growth and power, but we can also choose to witness them come and then go, like clouds blowing through a vast, expansive sky. When we take a seat and practice over and over again the ability to witness our thinking mind without engaging with it, we strengthen our sense of separation from it and its spinning nature. In this way, we also strengthen our connection to what IS us. What lies underneath the thinking mind: pure, conscious awareness.
I could go on and on, but basically my message to those of you building your meditation practice is this: have patience. Think about it more like a life partner than an exciting love affair or temporary relationship. Remember that it’s not the “results” of the practice that count, but rather the committed effort to keep coming back, no matter how great or how not great those results may feel at any given time. Remember that what you’re creating is something like planting a garden from seed: you may feel like you’re putting in a lot of effort and see little in terms of visible “outcomes” for a time. But eventually that garden sprouts and blossoms, and before you know it, it has become full, and vibrant, and lush with life. And that garden exists always; it requires your upkeep, your care and maintenance to continue to flourish, just like anything else. But as long as your provide that, as long as you hold up your end of the deal, that garden of practice will continue to be full and sweet, and uniquely yours. It will continue to sprout and blossom within you, and it will fill you with a deep sense of grace and power that comes from the very depths of your being.
Keep at it friends, I promise it’s worth it.