when your meditation practice is a disappointment
Do you ever feel like your practice is letting you down? I do. Sometimes I feel like I’m just dialing it in – a getting-it-done-to-say-I-did-it sort of thing. A chore. Sometimes I’m super bored, especially when I’m sitting for long periods of time. Sometimes my mind scatters in a gazillion directions and then returns to focus: scatter-return-scatter-return-bored-return-antsy-return-blah-blah-blah-return. Sometimes I get really hungry and can’t stop thinking about cookies. Sometimes I don’t think I can sit another nanosecond but I do. Sometimes I don’t think I can sit another nanosecond and I don’t.
Sometimes I sit in meditation and nothing happens and then I wake up in the middle of the night with what I call a “spiritual brain dump,” receiving some sort of revelation that helps me better understand the world as it is. Sometimes I see and talk to Jesus; we hold hands or hug. Once he told me to keep chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.” (Jesus loves Buddhism. He’s so Badass.) Sometimes I feel like I’m floating but I’m not. And sometimes, not often, I see gorgeous colors and patterns – colors I’ve never seen in real life. And it’s wonderful.
I’ve been meditating formally for 7 or 8 years, consistently for 5 or 6, and I’ve got to say, for me, it’s 90% relaxation, boredom, and stick-to-itiveness. The 10% of wonderful that comes through makes it all worth it, as does the self-awareness that seeps into existence when not in formal sitting.
If Forrest Gump were bu-curious like me, he might say, “Meditation is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” When you meditate, try to release expectations and trust that you’ll get what you’re supposed to get. Going into meditation with a particular outcome in mind can lead to the following:
1. Disappointment. Last time you meditated you felt buzzing all over your body. It was awesome. You felt like you were finally “doing it right” (ha) and are eager to get back to that feeling of full presence again. But this time you drop in and wait for the buzz, and you just can’t get there. You’re bummed.
2. Frustration. Since you’re not achieving the particular outcomes you’d intended to achieve, you are convinced you must be “doing it wrong.” In actuality, the only thing that’s getting in the way of your practice is your expectation that it should be something else. Remember, whatever happens, that’s what’s happening. The whatever is the sweet spot. Just eat the chocolate, Forrest.
3. Limitation. While the buzzing (or blue lights or numbness or gap) may be totally captivating, by wishing and willing yourself a return visit to those places, you are limiting yourself to those experiences and perhaps closing yourself off to other experiences that could serve you in ways you never imagined.
4. More limitation. Setting expectations for your practice is giving in to the human brain’s need to constantly create metaphors that spin out of the familiar. We can only describe objects, feelings, and experiences based on objects, feelings, and experiences we already recognize. Expecting to experience something you understand may be the ultimate limitation. Opening up to a pure wonder may allow you to experience that which you cannot explain and never could’ve expected. The Kindgom of Wonder is home to mysteries and colors and sounds and wisdom infinitely deep and wide, so try to notice when you’re hoping or expecting a particular experience or outcome and loosen up your grip on it.
And after all this is said, just as a wandering mind is a crucial part of meditation (if the mind doesn’t wander, we live in the now and meditation is obsolete), so, too, is expectation. It helps us better understand the nature of our minds and our habits, leading to a fuller awareness of self. So when we notice that we are engaging in disappointment, frustration, limitation, and more limitation, we can open up to the greater mystery by cutting the cord between our practice and our expectations.