The Bad Meditation and the Search
“That was nothing but a grocery list.”
“The most irritating song kept looping through my brain.”
“All I could think of was how pisssed I am at my ex-wife”
“I didn’t remember what you told us to do and I think I fell asleep –
actually I was drooling!”
I hear comments like this all the time, in fact I could add many of my own.
Everyone who practices meditation understands why the activity is called “practice”. We sit, we sit, we practice just sitting, letting the thoughts, emotions and memories come and go, allowing them to peak and settle so a different aspect of mind can arise. One that is expansive, clear and still. We sit to enjoy a liberated, peaceful aspect of our human nature – or, at least that’s our intention. It doesn’t always come to pass.
I heard a well-known meditation author interviewed on the radio. When asked about the nature of his meditations, he responded, ”Well, I’ve been meditating for about 30 years now and I can honestly say my meditations are still pretty lousy. But my life, well, my life looks like the life of a mediitator.”
Distracted meditations needn’t be an obstacle to practice. Pema Chodron says,” I’ve gotten used to my chattering mind; it hasn’t really changed – it just doesn’t bother me any more.”
So, relax; it’s all good - the days when meditation seems to flow in quickly and the days when it seems the timer will never ring. The most important attitude is one of non-judgment, acceptance, no big deal. In every area of our lives we can find moments where an uncomfortable situation spiraled out of control because of an inability to just let it be.
Have you slipped into a nervous trance and eaten a quart of ice cream, played computer games for 8 straight hours, yelled at the kids when they didn’t deserve it? Ever spent the better part of a day ruminating over the hidden meaning of an off-hand remark? My good friend Toni calls the mental state that fuels these behaviors “getting her panties in a wad.”
We’re always searching for “Neverwads” in romance, or lifestyle, or employment. We haven’t yet found wad-proof underwear or more importantly, the wad-proof state of mind. The place to begin is the last place we look: getting over the frustration with uncomfortable snarls by sitting with or even on them – a sense of humor helps, too. Meditation is the arena where we observe all our irritants -the busyness, jumpiness, fear, anger, fantasies our thoughts generate with full permission– and gently notice how unruly they can sometimes be.
The Buddha, when asked by a musician who played a stringed instrument called a vina, how tightly he should focus in meditation responded, “The same as you would tune your instrument, neither too tight nor too loose.”
Each of us has to find our own inner discipline, one that encourages returning to focus and doesn’t create further distraction by aggressively berating mistakes. That’s another practice, one that many have cultivated since childhood and none have found effective as a meditation support. Grocery list, the events of the day, annoyance with the neighbor’s leaf-blower – the new response is “no big deal”; everything can be used to further the gentle practice of letting come and letting go to return to focus. It’s like making a quilt with scraps of fabric; when they are pieced together to form a full cover, the dissonance recedes into the design of the completed textile. Perhaps in a similar way the life of a mediator is based on decades of lousy meditations.
But, just in case there arrives a practice which is too miserable to contextualize, too annoying to let pass without a sideswipe or a nasty remark, try this Buddhist technique.
Offer it, the crumby meditation or the wasted afternoon, the temper tantrum that won’t stop churning, as a gift, a blessing and a form of service: “I extend to all this meditation which I have endured as a an offering, so that no one, anywhere at any time, should have to sit through such a miserable experience.” With that slight turn of perspective, everything becomes fodder for spiritual growth and we can liberate ourselves day after day from the debilitation of black and white thinking. It’s the ultimate spiritual recycling program - everything is useable including the wads. That, dear Toni, is the secret path to the elusive “Neverwads”!