Whether we are just learning to meditate or have been practicing for a lifetime, it is important to consider what attitude we are bringing to the practice as well as the quality of effort we provide.
When I first started to meditate I began with a vengeance. My body was rigid and tight. I was going to succeed, no matter what. As I recall, I had concerns that others could “succeed” at this practice but I had no assurance that I would be able to sit still, find my breath and have “something good happen”. Would there be any benefits? This was a question I asked myself. Have you ever wondered this?
We are a culture that likes goals and linear progress so it can be easy to turn a meditation practice into a task to be completed, something to check off the daily “to do” list. I have a friend who puts meditation just after going to the gym and just before going to work on her list. Sometimes I too find myself checking to see if I am making progress (but what would making progress mean?).
It is challenging but more rewarding to shift the paradigm to practice for the sake of practice itself, without expectations or attachment to outcomes,. I find curiosity to be an indispensable quality. In my experience, curiosity is more engaging than criticism. When I am curious I have a lighthearted feeling rather than a rigid demanding feeling that questions “am I doing it right”? or “why is this happening”?
By nature I am not a very patient person but I have found that patience is another helpful quality. When I practice patience I assume a stance of relaxing back because otherwise I get to practice tolerating the state of impatience (not very pleasant). When I stop trying to make something happen and stop pushing away that which I don’t like, I can have some ease. I try to cultivate a willingness to stay present to see whatever it is that arises. I find I have to remind myself that this is a practice not a linear path to perfection. I know I will have further opportunities for practice.
When I turn my attention to the body and notice that there is holding or constriction I have a chance to invite a sense of release. Often I experience a duet, both the mind and body caught in a struggle. When I try too hard both the body and the mind respond with tension. A simple shift from being “in” the struggle to stepping “out” and seeing the struggle is a key I have found to freedom. From this place of observation I can bring some curiosity and actually see what it going on. Then I can see that there is nothing that is going wrong, but rather a waking up to a pattern of thought that is now known. Here is where I get to choose. For all of us, when this awareness occurs, we have an opportunity to let go, look more closely or simply return to the body and the breath. I for one, celebrate when this freedom presents itself.
You might have heard the metaphor of tuning a violin to compare to the type of effort exerted in meditation… When we want to make beautiful music, the violin has to be tuned just right. Too tight, it squeaks; too loose, it whines. Just right, it is glorious! The same goes for the body and mind in meditation practice: too loose, we have sloth and torpor; too tight, we have restlessness. I know them both well. Just right, we have curiosity, patience and insight. (maybe:). Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself in practice. May your`practice bring you comfort and all the best with your tuning and making music….