You Cannot Fail!
It’s a shame that so many people give up on practice after a short time. They will come along to a course or go on a retreat where they will learn meditation and the principles of mindfulness, and they will come along with the very best of intentions. But something goes wrong. They sit in meditation every day and wait for something to happen. After a while, the expected something doesn't happen; in fact it’s boring, it’s frustrating, IT DOESN’T WORK!!! If this is you, here’s some advice from someone who has already been there.
Most of all, our sense of failure arises out of our expectations. Many people, quite understandably, come to meditation because they want to relax; they see pictures of attractive women in white linen yoga gear, serenely meditating on the beach at sunset, and they think, “I want a bit of that.” Now, although it is true that as our practice deepens, the mind becomes quieter and less agitated, this is not the goal of meditation. This is the reason I hesitate to call meditation a "technique". Techniques are a series of defined processes which lead to an objective. Inherent in the idea of a technique is that there must be a right way and a wrong way of doing it. Not so with meditation. Meditation is best thought of as an investigation. As we sit in meditation, we are watching our experience with curiosity and interest, whatever it might be. We're not trying to do anything or change anything or make anything happen or get anywhere. We are just being aware.
What we find is that, as we drop the habitual thoughts that form the background tape loop of our mental lives, other thoughts will bubble up to take their place. Sometimes these are not the sort of thoughts we want but there is nothing we can do to stop the mind thinking – that’s what it does. Some of my own meditations have been more like the experience of a pub brawl on the central reservation of the M1 at rush hour. It happens and it doesn’t mean that you can’t meditate. Even if you feel crushingly bored, restless or sleepy, you are not failing. As soon as you catch that moment of agitation, boredom, frustration, self-criticism or whatever, you have returned to the moment and that is all you need to do.
Meditation is not about resting in perfect tranquillity without a thought in your head, it’s about returning to the present moment over and over again. That’s why we call it practice; it takes effort. It also takes perseverance and courage as well as the willingness to support and be supported by others who are on the same journey. It’s easy to get discouraged and feel that we are failing, so sharing the journey with others is a huge gift. One of the most persistent forms of résistance to practice is the belief that everyone else can do it but we can’t. Wrong. We all experience the same things and this sense of failure is pretty universal. Trust me on this.
If you want some excellent advice on how to keep your practice alive even when you have given up on it, try Reading Nigel Welling's excellent book, "Why Can't I Meditatate."
So now go outside, look at the clouds, smell the air and when you’re ready, take your seat.
Until next month, keep breathing!