February 22, 2016

Understanding Meditation: What Not to Expect in Our Practice.

Ashley Batz/Unsplash

“The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment.” ~ Sogyal Rinpoche

Many people these days are being introduced to meditation.

As the realm of spirituality is expanding, the topic of meditation comes up more often in conversation and people are becoming increasingly familiar with the practice.

Plenty of centers and organizations are offering regular meditation courses. Almost every spiritual book mentions the importance of meditation. Nearly everyone is either hearing about meditation, reading about it, or practicing it.

Having the curiosity to delve into the realm of meditation is undoubtedly significant. However, I think we should ponder the reasons that lead us to this practice.

What is it that we can expect from a meditation practice?

I was eight years old when I first heard of meditation. I remember that I used to imagine a monk sitting in the lotus position with his body lifted up from the floor whenever I heard of meditation. I thought meditation was a supernatural phenomenon only practiced by sages.

As I grew older, meditation became an enthralling topic for me, especially now that I have immersed myself in Buddhist culture and the world of spirituality.

I must admit that I expected to get a lot from meditation when I first started my practice. To be honest, I didn’t fully grasp its purpose until years after I had begun meditating. After I began to teach meditation, I witnessed my own expectations and misunderstandings about meditation in nearly all of my students.

I’ve met plenty of people who dropped their practice because they didn’t perceive a tangible result.

Some claimed that it was very hard while others said that it wasn’t what they expected. I, myself, have dropped meditation plenty of times in the past because I perceived it as too arduous.

I think that in order to cut ties with this problematic issue, we must first understand what meditation is about and where the practice originated. Even if Buddhism doesn’t interest us, it is quite necessary to read the story of the Buddha for context before delving into a meditation practice.

I believe that the story of Gautama Buddha helps us understand why meditation exists. Moreover, doing so minimizes the expectations and misunderstandings that we might have in mind regarding the practice.

Once we learn about the background of meditation, we will come to acknowledge that the purpose of meditation is to bring the mind home.

To bring the mind home means to return to our true nature, which is Buddha-like.

It is empty, calm and abiding.

By this point in our lives, our minds are a compilation of what we have learned from our parents, society, school, college and jobs. All of this is encapsulated in our minds as thought patterns and habits.

“Just as dogs love to chew bones, the mind loves to get its teeth into problems.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

Because the mind is fragile, problems and thoughts cling to it like a limpet thoroughly straying us away from our empty, peaceful nature.

When we understand that the aim of meditation is to bring us back to who we really are, we will comprehend that meditation isn’t a goal that will be achieved overnight.

Meditation is a process. We should drop particular expectations that will only act as roadblocks during our practice.

Unfortunately, we all have lofty expectations when it comes to meditation.

First and foremost, we expect to have no thoughts.

“To have a peaceful mind does not mean that there’s nothing happening, mental impressions do arise.” ~ Ajahn Chah

When we meditate, the mind basically runs the show. The only difference is that during our day, we have no awareness of what is going on inside of it. Whenever a thought comes up, we go along with it—we think about it and we analyze it. However, during meditation we are more in the position of an observer. The mind is thinking, but instead of going along with the thought, we watch it.

For instance, if the thought of grocery shopping comes to mind, we simply watch it, take note of it, then let it go.

While we may think that clearing the mind of thoughts is bad, it is actually good. What the mind basically does during meditation is it brings to the surface “old junk.” It shows us what is happening inside ourselves 24/7.

When we watch our thoughts without any judgment, gaps of emptiness between thoughts start to take place. With time, those gaps become longer and thus, we will be introduced to the real nature of our Buddha mind.

We expect meditation to bring about happiness.

Meditation brings about acceptance—not happiness. So many people are meditating these days expecting to have a peaceful meditation that will generate happiness. On the contrary, meditation might never be peaceful.

As I mentioned earlier, we are prone to face plenty of “old junk” when we meditate. What we learn, however, isn’t to be happy; it is to accept whatever the present moment is about. As we progress in meditation, we will start to feel “contentment” because we have learned how to accept what is outwardly to ourselves.

Meditation won’t solve our problems, and it won’t turn us into happy beings who lead easy lives. Meditation will teach us how to apply what we learn while practicing in our daily lives. Just like we watch our thoughts, let them be and then let them go, we will do the same in sorrowful situations.

We will watch the calamities as they elapse in our lives, we will let them be, then let them go.

Another thing that we expect in meditation is to reach an end result.

This is why plenty of people drop meditation. They basically drop it when they don’t see any palpable results or change.

We must acknowledge that meditation isn’t a path that will lead to a certain destination. It is not homework or an exam with grades and feedback.

Meditation brings the mind back home. Therefore, calmness and emptiness are already there. Our Buddha nature is there. All what meditation does is peel the layer that hides this nature.

When it’s peeled open, our real nature will appear. In other words, the result is already here. It is within us and we can experience it at any moment.

“I often compare the mind to in meditation to a jar full of muddy water: The more we leave the water without interfering or stirring it, the more the particles of dirt will sink to the bottom, letting the natural clarity of the water shine through.” ~ Sogyal Rinpoche

I think the best meditation we will ever have is when we expect nothing. We should allow meditation to “be.” When it “is,” the clear water will shine through.

We must accept whatever comes from meditation. We shouldn’t force it. We must let it be.

Happy meditation!


Author: Elyane Youssef

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Image: Ashley Batz/Unsplash

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