I struggle with my meditation practice. I go through periods, often six months at a time, when I am religious about it — sitting legs crossed first thing in the morning, for at least twenty minutes.
But, somehow, I stop. It fizzles away from my life.
I had stopped for almost two years. Then in November of last year, I read Robert’s Wright excellent book, “Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.” He comes to meditation from an evolutionary scientific perspective. I found his work refreshing, practical and motivating. I have been meditating since I read it.
Over the last few weeks, I have started to falter again, missing at first a day, then a few days. Now, I find myself missing five days in a row and questioning why I need to meditate again.
Whether it is exercise, meditation, doing puzzles or some new business strategy we have adopted, we all go through periods where we cannot stick with it. This common affliction can be known as; ‘loss of faith,’ ‘throwing in the towel,’ or simply ‘giving up.’
When we start something new, we are excited about it. However, after a few months, the novelty wears off. We wake up and are just not feeling it. Immediately after reading Wright’s book and for a few months after, I was eager to sit on a cushion every morning, but not so now.
Why have my feelings let me down towards a practice that I know has many benefits — giving me more inner peace, reducing my stress levels and making me more relaxed?
From the outset, when adopting a new activity or strategy, we need to ask whether it is relevant and rewarding for us. We do not want to be unduly influenced by our peer groups or engage in such activities because it is everywhere on social media, becoming the latest fad.
We must distinguish between how we feel when in the activity and the imagined reward we attach to its outcome.
Let us say I took up meditation because I had heard on many podcasts how effective it is with all kinds of world-class performers like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, the late Kobe Bryant, Rick Rubin, Jerry Seinfeld, Clint Eastwood. The list goes on and includes many billionaires. Because of this, I would be expecting that meditation would somehow give me inner peace and patience as a by-product only to make me successful like the above examples. I would quit as soon as the novelty wears off and I realize that meditation had not given me the success that I had imagined.
The truth is, I was motivated to start meditation because of the success stories. Over the past seven years, I have noticed how it grounds me — reminding me that I am not my thoughts. I am separate from that inner voice that bombards me throughout the day.
We also need to understand that not everything rewarding is always fun. I suspect this is where most of us fail. We are brought up on a diet of instant gratification. In that, every meditation session takes us to Nirvana, that every run we embark on must take us into a ‘runner’s high’ mental state, or every meeting with a customer must end with a sale.
Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves if we would keep doing that activity even if we will not be rewarded. Also, not everything we do comes with a lifetime guarantee that it works and is suitable. There is some uncertainty that we must constantly navigate.
Are we willing to spill blood, tears and sweat for it? Not because of a perceived outcome, not because we enjoy doing it but because we feel driven to do it no matter what?
Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Put in another way, sometimes our decisions must not be based on logic but on unwavering faith that we could accomplish them. We should push aside our egoic, thinking mind and rely on instinct and faith, as if driven by some outside force.
Meditation is frustrating, as it is difficult to gauge any linear progress. We do not see results quickly, and we underestimate its effect. I’m left frustrated many a day after my twenty-minute session as my mind was all over the place and I couldn’t muster stilling my thoughts for more than 30 seconds in the whole session.
There would be no Buddha smile after those sessions.
However, there is an inner voice that is constantly tugging away at me to meditate. I can’t explain it. I cannot make sense of it. I just have a deep knowing that I must bear through the disenchantment and keep doing the work.
I must endure through it. Not for any tangible results but because I am compelled to do so.
Off to the meditation mat then.
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