It feels wrong to give direction by asking people ‘not’ to do something. You don’t throw a ball to a child and say ‘don’t drop it’, you say ‘catch it’. There are no posters saying “don’t be ordinary”, they say “Shoot For The Stars”. Nike’s slogan wouldn’t work as well if it said “Just Don’t Not Do It”. Yet I state half the foundational building blocks of meditation as non-something.
Nevertheless, there are a some precedents where ‘nots’ are considered useful. Hinduism uses the practice of ‘neti neti’, meaning ‘not this, and not that’. This is considered the only way of pointing towards the ineffable, in their case they use it to describe Brahman. Scientists have found it difficult to prove the existence of black holes – they infer black holes exist and hypothesize about their nature by seeing what is not there.
Meditation is about doing something unusual with our minds. Using negation is a way of highlighting the habitual activity of the mind, and saying – “notice this is what you tend to do (even if you’re not aware of it), and in meditation we are trying to do the opposite.”
Everything we do, we do for a reason. Either because we want something, or because we’re avoiding something. We get up in the morning because we want to get on with our day, do things, make things, get things, or we get up because we simply want to avoid getting fired and becoming homeless. We are taught in our society that if you want a certain outcome you have to ‘go get it’, ‘make it happen’, ‘take responsibility’ etc. But meditation doesn’t work that way.
One of the keys to meditation is to see if you can approach it without an agenda, without trying to make something happen, and without trying to get rid of anything.
This is difficult. Of course people come to meditation because they want something. That’s normal. I’ve been doing this thirty years or so and there are definitely reasons I keep meditating and some of that is to do with what I expect to get out of it. However, there is a difference between why you meditate generally as opposed wanting a specific outcome from a specific meditation.
In order to get what you want out of meditation in the big picture, you need to see if you can avoid bringing that agenda to today’s meditation. If you want relaxation, or you want to get rid of your stress, or you want creativity, or you want anything … you are not going to be able to do the exercise as described if you try to make that happen. The exercise involves experiencing this moment exactly as it is. That’s all.
It turns out that if you can do that, you tend to feel more relaxed, less stressed, have greater clarity, creativity, peace, courage etc. But it does not come through trying to make it happen.
Non-striving is the description used because it helps to highlight this tendency of our minds – to want things, and then to try to get them. Once you see the normal activity, then we say, “okay, now see if you can – Just Not Do It”.