Practical Meditation


On clinging to a result in meditation, and how it creates tension.

The original question was:

Hello Roger,

Things will change, you said. Well, they have. The last few days my meditation has just seemed to fall into a bit of a mess. I know that`s not right, but that`s how it feels. I`ve had no calm centeredness on the breath at all and it feels very disappointing.

What I did notice however, was that for those few days when I was getting my awareness on the breath effortlessly, I was always expecting it, almost demanding it to happen. And when it didn`t I`d feel I`d failed in some way.

Then next time I`d put more effort in and it would all fall apart a bit. I`d get frustrated and angry. It sounds a bit stupid, but that`s how it felt. I noticed that I was putting in a lot of effort to try and get those states back again, because they felt so good. This was counter-productive.

Since then I`ve tried to let go of the effort and trying to get `somewhere` with meditation, but it`s hard. I sometimes feel I`m doing nothing just sitting there and feel guilty about that. What`s more, I feel a depression starting to build: loss of mental energy, repetitive self deprecating thoughts etc. I`m trying to stay with it .I guess I`ll just plod on and try and stay with things.

Kind Regards ...

Hi John, I don`t know whether I have told you this story, but I think it is relevant, and I think I mention it in one of my books, but I`ll re-write it here anyway. One of the most valuable pieces of advice my teacher gave me was wrapped around a simple comment.

I had just told him about how things had been going so well, and now everything was terrible in meditation, and I was thinking of how hopeless I felt.

He paused after I had finished, then looked at his fingernails and said quietly, "Don`t cling ... when meditation is pleasant, don't cling to the pleasantness. When meditation is unpleasant, don't cling to that either. Clinging creates suffering ... So let everything go. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, treat it just the same. Let it go. Move on. Never, ever cling to anything, because it will change."

And he was right. A number of telling phrases and words appear in your e mail.

I`ll list them:" feels very disappointing." "...I was always expecting it, almost demanding it to happen." " didn`t I`d feel I`d failed in some way." " time I`d put more effort in and it would all fall apart a bit." "...I`d get frustrated and angry." "...counter-productive." "...I sometimes feel I`m doing nothing just sitting there and feel guilty about that..."

All of these are indications that you are clinging to an idea of good meditation, and judging your performance harshly in comparison.

So, of course, meditation is teaching you with a carrot and stick. When you let go, it came alive, and you felt its potential.

But when you began clinging to what it gave you, it closed up again.

But I`m sure you already know this.

I find it best, whenever I get stuck in anything - whether in life, or in meditation, to break it down to it`s most basic parts - sensations and feelings. I ignore all the thoughts and conditioned reactions and give all of my attention to examining the sensations and feelings - without expecting change, or progress, or anything.

And that`s when balance appears on its own. But as I said, I`m sure you already know this.

One thing every meditator must get used to I think, is making the same stupid mistakes over and over again, even thought they 'know'. This is because our intellect grasps things more quickly than our habits allow, and often that leads us to become frustrated, because we `know` but our mind and body keep on making the same mistakes. So here is a test of our patience, and most of all, your equanimity.

As you said, in this situation, best to just `plod on`.

The depressions you have experienced in your life are made of exactly the same reactive habits as those that frustrate you in meditation. So meditation becomes an opportunity for you to identify those habits, and move through them. It takes time.

After all, how long have you been meditating? Not long. Just keep plodding along, and forget about what you desire from meditation. Just do it because you have decided to do it.

After all, climbing a mountain is only painful when we keep on peering at the distant peak - and the climbing seems to take so long. But if we just concentrate on our footsteps, time seems to contract, and though it took us just as long, the peak appears like a surprise.

Best wishes Roger Wells