This week’s post is from Éowyn Ahlstrom, one of the team of teachers here at the CFM. You can scroll down to see Éowyn’s previous blog posts as well.
Perhaps like many of you, when I began meditating, I remember thinking I couldn’t really concentrate at all. Looking back, it seems lucky that I also felt powerfully moved by the practice and quite determined to explore it fully nonetheless.
At the advice of a kind teacher, I decided to reserve judgment on my capabilities as a meditator for a decade or so, and just practice—sitting daily, attending meditation retreats once or twice a year, and working at a meditation center to immerse myself in a culture of mindfulness. The people who had long years of practice seemed calm and wise. I wanted those qualities too, and thought improved concentration would bring that about.
Periodically, there was a sense of gaining ground. Focus improved markedly, especially during retreats. At other times though, the situation seemed to get much worse. Thoughts like, “I am truly hopeless and will never be able to do this.” were a common occurrence in sitting. Mindfulness is said to be innate, but some days I feared I was that one sad exception, destined to be forever, and quite miserably, distracted.
Interestingly, it was not a breakthrough in concentration that set my heart at rest. It was a change in attitude. Slowly and surprisingly, like how raindrops fill a vessel with water, mindfulness practice itself showed me that inner struggle isn’t helpful. And, it can be put down, repeatedly in fact. Each time I dropped the exertion, it grew clearer within: no matter how pleasant or unpleasant a moment is, being with it actually feels easier than fighting it.
Almost involuntarily, I stopped trying so hard and began opening to the moment, an attitude my colleague Jud Brewer calls curiosity  and which is known in the ancient meditation teachings as “investigation”. As this attitude slowly became a habit, the intense and often painful effort I had misconstrued as a necessary part of practice gave way to something else: the experience of a trustworthy refuge in awareness.
Now I can reserve judgment on my capabilities as a meditator indefinitely! It just doesn’t matter whether I think I am a good at it or not. At the same time, it seems likely that daily meditation practice and yearly retreats will continue to be good companions throughout my life, sitting just for the sake of sitting.
- Brewer, J. (2014, June 23). Why is it so hard to pay attention? Or is it? Curiosity may be key to concentrating | HuffPost. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-judson-brewer/mindfulness-practice_b_5495328.html