Sometimes when I meditate I can enjoy wonderful experiences of peace, energy, and joy. Sometimes my world feels like it’s slowing down, or I feel myself being able to get behind my busy mind and find a deeper side of my self. This is a place I’d like to inhabit twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. But, to be honest, most of the time meditation is work. It’s the process of doing the practice, getting distracted, and then doing the work. This morning was work. I was meditating and I just couldn’t seem to ‘click-in’ to a really nice meditative state.
“This isn’t working.” I told myself. There was a strong urge to get up and do something ‘more’ productive. I have lots of projects on the go right now, I am behind with all of them, so I should stop meditating since it’s not really working and get on with them. I nearly listened.
One of the things that’s intriguing about meditation is that we get to see our own mind and its workings. We ask it to focus in a direction, but it wanders. The traditional instruction for meditation is that this is normal, but that when we notice our mind has wandered we gently let go of the thought and return our focus back to the meditation. Sometimes this is easier than other times.
For me there are some relatively easy ones to notice and discard. One set of thoughts I find myself having are to do with things I need to remember to do. I find myself trying to remind myself that I need to pick up the dry cleaning today, or that I need to pay a bill, return an email, send a birthday card, or take the car to get an oil change. I don’t always notice that I’m thinking about these things quickly, but as soon as I do see the thoughts I am able to let it go, trust that I’ll probably remember later, and then return my focus to the meditation.
Another set of thoughts I find I can handle are when I start problem solving. These thoughts might be about sorting out finances, about how I’m going to teach my next class, write this blog, or about my relationship, my family, or friends. During this morning’s meditation I found myself wondering about whether I should be using Facebook in order to reach more people, or whether the downsides of Facebook outweigh the advantages, and how that might work, or how I would defend not using Facebook. Again, these types of thoughts may be very attractive to me to follow, but as soon as I realize I’m having these types of thoughts I’m usually able to let them go and refocus.
However, there’s a thought that all too often I can’t ignore. It is the voice in my head that decides what I need to do next. It is the voice that judges what is good or bad, what I like or dislike, and whether a particular meditation is going well or not. It is a very useful part of me and is also the voice that tells me that it’s 7:30am so I need to go and meditate. It directs me. It is the part of me that I most consciously identify as who I am. It is the very same voice that is deciding what the next sentence of this blog is going to say. I listen to what it says, because it feels like it is me that is saying it. That makes it very powerful, and very difficult to ignore.
The thing is that it’s not always right. It feels right. I’d like to believe it’s always right. I do need to rely on it to be right most of the time. But, of course, it isn’t quite as always right as it thinks it is. Even it can realize this, but that doesn’t mean it lacks confidence in asserting what is so at any point. So when it tells me I should stop meditating because this isn’t working – I tend to believe it. All too often I listen. When it tells me I don’t have time to meditate today, or I don’t feel like it, or that I’ll meditate late, I listen too often.
I recognize it is very hard to not listen to yourself. We are taught to be true to ourselves, to follow our heart. In these situations it feels like we should listen when ‘we’ are telling ourselves to not meditate today, or to finish a meditation early.
This morning, unusually for me, I saw the voice for what it was and what it wasn’t. It had my best interests at heart. It didn’t think the meditation felt as good as some meditations feel, so I should stop wasting my time. But it is also NOT always right. “This isn’t working” is just a thought. Perhaps a thought that seems more relevant than wondering about yesterday’s conversation or my Facebook presence, but it is just a thought. So, for once, I wasn’t as bad a meditator as usual and I didn’t listen. I let the thought go, and returned to the meditation. The meditation suddenly ‘clicked-in’ and it was very nice for the last few minutes. That won’t always happen. I will probably listen to that voice many times. And if I ignore it, I’m sure it won’t make the meditation suddenly become lovely. But hopefully I’ll slowly get better at seeing this voice for what it is. Helpful, useful, and relevant, most of the time, but not all of the time.