I sometimes say that having goals is a dangerous place to be when you are starting a meditation practice. Why is that?
What I am not saying
I am not suggesting that you should cast aside all of the reasons that you decided to start meditation. That would be ridiculous. The reasons that you started asking questions about meditation or sought out meditation instruction, are the motivating factors that will drive your initial forays into meditation. They are important and need to be respected and nurtured.
What I am saying
Let’s say that you want to learn how to meditate so that you have peace of mind. That is a quite legitimate reason to start a practice. At the same time one can start having preconceptions as to what peace of mind looks like. What you will be able to do and not do, or how you should feel when you will attain peace of mind. Even the idea of “when you will attain” can be fraught with problems - you are holding the possibility of being able to identify when you get there, and also suggesting that it is a permanent state of mind. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but you are holding an image that you have created for yourself of a state of mind that you have not experienced yet.
And another loaded question, “how long will it take me to get there?” Once you have a timestamp on how long you will need to meditate to attain what you wish to attain, it feeds into your ideas of what it will look like, what you need to do and when you can stop (as if stopping is even an option).
With these goals in mind you are in some ways setting yourself up for failure, or at least frustration if these goals allude you, as they almost certainly will.
From my experience, the path of meditation is not linear. With steady practice there will be progress, but the path is over very mixed terrain full of bumps and smooth ground, valleys and peaks, fast roads and long treks through deserts.
So what to do?
That is a question that probably warrants a longer answer than this piece will give, but here are some pointers.
- There are many different meditation instructions. Spend some time searching out a practice which works for you.
- Just follow that practice. Just follow the instruction.
- As you start to see results in your practice, your faith in that practice will increase - what you read or heard worked for you, so you go back to it and try it again. That’s what I mean by faith.
- When you are struggling in your practice, stick with the instruction. Practice it.
- Don’t use the struggle time to decide to move onto a different practice. That struggle time is when you probably need to make a bigger commitment to the instruction. Double down and stick with it.
- At these times, having a teacher with whom you can discuss your struggles can be helpful. Someone who has travelled that road before.
- If a teacher is not possible, try a friend who is also meditating, or refer to a book.
- Don’t set yourself timelines for achievements or goals. Just follow the instruction.
- Meditation is for the long haul. It is a marathon not a sprint. It is for a lifetime.
Reframing your goal
Reframing your goal as a motivation is probably better. Hold that goal as your motivation for wishing to engage in meditation. That motivation will drive your practice and stay with you throughout. It will probably also develop and mature as your meditation practice correspondingly does as well. Just do not mistake that motivation as a goal.
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