Meditation and Expectations

When you begin to meditate you may notice changes right away. You may feel less anxious or more alert. You may be better able to concentrate, have more energy, be more at ease socially, or be more powerful intellectually. Or nothing much may seem to change. Don’t count on anything dramatic. Most changes happen slowly.

There is a wide variety of experiences you will  have during meditation itself, such as feelings of a pleasant calmness, a slight exhilaration, or, if you’re fatigued, strong drowsiness. A common report is the feeling of the mind speeding up. Actually, this is not what is happening, but rather your awareness is standing back a bit so that for the first time you notice the normal speediness of your thoughts. Other kinds of experiences can include seeing images with your eyes closed, hearing inner sounds, or having inner smells, tastes, or new sensations in the body; these are less common. Outside meditation, you may find a sense of spaciousness in your life, a new peace.

All of these experiences, because of their novelty, have a great fascination. But they are best seen as markers along the way, signposts to be noticed, read, perhaps enjoyed, and then left behind as you go on.

There is no “best” or “right” kind of experience in meditation; each session is as different and unique as each day of your life.

If you have ideas of what should happen, you can become needlessly disappointed if your meditation doesn’t conform to these expectations. At first meditation is likely to be a novel, and it’s easy to feel you are changing. After a while, there may be fewer dramatically novel experiences, and you may feel you’re not making any progress. In fact, you may be making the most “progress” when you don’t feel anything particularly significant is going on – the changes you undergo in meditation are often too subtle to detect accurately. Suspend judgment and let whatever comes come and go.

Some people find meditation boring. They feel as if nothing is happening. This is another way in which the old you holds on tight; and it is important to be able to persist even through the experiences of boredom. Set yourself a period of time to seriously try meditation, perhaps a period of two weeks or a month in which you say to yourself, “No matter what I experience in meditation I will continue to do it regularly.” This will give you a chance to get through discouraging experiences in meditation such as boredom.

On the other hand, the initial reaction to meditation may be just the opposite of boredom – ecstasy.

Many people find things happening after their first few meditative experiences that give them incredible enthusiasm and truly ecstatic states. This may lead them to proselytize, to want to tell others. I suggest that in the early stages you move gently and slowly. Don’t overreact.

Positive experiences may well be followed shortly after by indifference. If you don’t keep your experiences to yourself you may find yourself caught in a social situation in which you have created a monster of enthusiasm which you must pump up in a false way in order to be consistent. It is wise in all stages of meditation to be calm and not to make too much of any of your experiences, positive or negative. Merely notice them and keep on with your meditation.

Some people overreact to their experiences and go around saying they’re enlightened – they’re the Buddha, they’re the Christ. This is a self-deception. Others go to the other extreme and say they are nothing, they are unworthy. Both these positive and negative attitudes have to go.

Be open to whatever experiences come in your meditation. Don’t get fixated on a model of what meditation is supposed to feel like. Set aside judging, being critical, having opinions. Meditation is giving up models and labels.

The less you expect, the less you judge, the less you cling to this or that experience as significant, the further you will progress. For what you’re seeking is a transformation of your being far beyond that which any specific experience can give you. It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.

“When you practice zazen, just practice zazen. If enlightenment comes, it just comes.” – Shunryu Suzuki

– Ram Dass

Photo via Flickr

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