Meditation: persevere but give up the struggle!
by Paul Bedson
Watch yourself closely as you are preparing to meditate and as you are meditating. Notice how much of your time is caught up with the subtle hope that something should happen… something transformative, wonderful, magical, mystical, or spiritual, should happen. This hope is the beginning of the struggle in meditation. What usually follows is the thought, ‘If something wonderful doesn’t happen then I must not be doing it correctly, or maybe this isn’t the right meditation technique for me.’
Waiting for something to happen whilst you are meditating is the source of struggle and dissatisfaction. This is what frustrates meditators and can cause them to give up or keep looking for the next technique. Hoping that the next meditation technique will make something wonderful happen. Of course, some unskilful meditation teachers will keep dangling the carrot by feeding the hope that something wonderful will happen!
True meditation is not about experiencing wonderful states of bliss nor having mystical experiences… these are the “carrots” or expectations that keep people waiting for something to happen. True meditation is about healing limited and false perceptions of ourselves. These false perceptions involve believing that we are a separate entity living in a separate bodymind… separate from others, from Nature and from Spirit.
This false perception of separateness creates an ever-present feeling of incompleteness and lack. The feeling of lack drives all our thoughts, feelings and actions. It keeps us always running towards (or seeking) those things and people that we hope will give us a feeling of completeness and running away from the feeling of lack… but always running, seeking, desiring and fearing. This constant seeking keeps our thinking mind constantly busy, our bodies contracted, and our emotions driven by desire and fear. I refer to this as “problem saturation” (i.e. what one does, who one is and what one has is never enough) and the “more syndrome” (i.e. always hoping that someone, something or some experience will bring happiness and fulfilment). This is the real cause of stress and anxiety.
The “problem saturation” and “more syndrome” can creep into your meditation practice and keep you waiting and hoping for something to happen, struggling to make something happen, and getting frustrated when it doesn’t.
Meditation is about letting go of expectations; it’s about seeking less, wanting less… giving up hopes and dreams and simply being present.
Our false beliefs (in a separate self) keep us busy: always doing something and becoming something… whereas meditation is about doing nothing and resting in the completeness of our True Nature.
This is where we gradually find peace and joy, not in the seeking but in the letting go of seeking, and resting in present moment experience just as it is.
Mindfulness meditation, when taught skilfully, gives us a break from doing and becoming; and enables us to rest in the stillness of being (our True Nature free from the false perception of a separate self). Resting in the stillness of our True Nature heals the sense of lack and the restlessness of the false self.
I teach Mindfulness-based Stillness Meditation. It is a meditative path that leads from effort to effortlessness. In the beginning of your meditative journey, a degree of effort is required to soften our identification with the old habit of excessive thinking. The habit of excessive thinking is generated by the false perception of a separate self, and it sustains that false perception. To break the habit of excessive thinking, we choose to give our attention to present moment experience:- sounds, breath, sensations and feelings. We choose to be more fully present and make thinking less important. We practise this over and over, with patience and perseverance. We choose to make our experiential reality more important than the cognitive reality of excessive thinking. Over and over, with patience and perseverance, we are moving from the default position of negative neuroplasticity in the brain to positive neuroplasticity. Positive neuroplasticity comes from cultivating presence, acceptance, openness, patience, alertness, spontaneity and creativity.
As we become more familiar with, and stabilised in, an experiential reality of being present, we can let go of some of the effort in meditation. We can rest in the Stillness of our Being – present, awake, alert, with no goals and no problems… just this!
Peace doesn’t come from seeking peace but from giving up seeking… giving up struggling, giving up searching. Mindfulness-based Stillness Meditation is a healing journey from the restlessness of doing and becoming, to the Stillness of Being.
Paradoxically, as we stop running after love, approval and connection (as the false perception of the separate self softens), we find a deep sense of connection with our own True Nature.
I will conclude with two quotes from the wonderfully humourous Zen teacher Alan Watts:
“The biggest ego trip of all is trying to get rid of your ego”
“Meditation is about seeking less not more”.
Sitting silently, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.
– Zen Master/Poet-Basho
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Paul has been working in the field of mind/body medicine for over 20 years as a counsellor, psychotherapist, meditation instructor and natural therapist. His particular interest is in helping people deal with the range of emotional issues associated with their healing journey. Paul also works with grief and anxiety issues and relationship problems. He teaches mindfulness-based styles of meditation which develop wisdom and compassion through awareness of body, emotion, mind and spirit as one integrated Self. Paul co-authored the book Meditation an In-Depth Guide with Ian Gawler.