- What comes to mind, when you think about meditation?
- What do you expect of yourself, when you sit down to meditate?
- And what do you want to achieve by sitting?
Maybe you want to quieten the turmoil in your mind.
Maybe you want to calm the rocky waves of your emotions.
Maybe you want to retreat from the turbulent outer world to seek an inner refuge of silence, contentment, and joy.
Maybe you have experienced, intuited, or heard of such things as peace, fullness, love, and enlightenment…
I could go on and on. The possible reasons might be manifold, yet they always have one thing in common: you experience some sort of is discomfort – a restlessness, an agitation, a discomfort –, that somehow doesn’t feel right and that you want to remove.
Depending on where you look, you will find this restlessness in your mind, your body, your feelings, or the world outside.
Surely you have tried all sorts of things to make you feel better, to quieten your mind, soothe your body, cope with your feelings and manipulate the outer world. And while you might have been able to soothe yourself for a little while, ultimately all these manipulations have not been successful – otherwise, you wouldn’t be here, seeking something deeper inside.
You might say: “No, no. I’m fine. I don’t have any problems, I’m just on the spiritual path – seeking enlightenment.”
Then I would ask: “Is that so? If you are really completely fine – relaxed and at peace –, would you have the urge to do some sort of practice? Would you be seeking?”
No. You are not fine. We are not fine. We are suffering – that is why we meditate. That is why we seek the advice of teachers and gurus. That is why we go to therapy. That is why we read self-help books.
I feel it is very important to recognize that we are suffering, to truly look there, even if it feels uncomfortable. I find it important not to jump to a solution too quickly, but to investigate the suffering and the sources of suffering. That is what the Buddha talked about when he spoke of the “Four Noble Truths”: The truth of suffering (dukkah), the origin of suffering (samudaya), the cessation of suffering (nirodha), and the path to the cessation of suffering (marga).
Motivation & Steadiness
Notice that the Four Noble Truths don’t start with the path, but with suffering. And this is what I want to get to. When you start meditating (or start out on any other venture), don’t try to jump to the goal too quickly. Yes, the goal is important. If you have no goal (and no map), how will you know where to go? But before you leave, take good stock of where you are right now, because on the path you might get to all sorts of comfy places and you might be tempted to stop there and just chill.
Now, it’s all right to stop every now and then, to rest and to catch your breath, before venturing on. The dance of activity and rest is a natural thing. But what can happen easily in meditation is that you overexert yourself, push on through for a little while, and then let it go completely, nearly forgetting about it.
Or you meditate when the going is good when the sailing is smooth, but when the waves are rocky you forget all about it.
Or it’s the other way around: when your life is challenging, you remember about meditation, you do the practice out of sheer necessity, but once the sea is calm again, you forget all about it, since it’s so nice to just enjoy the sunshine and the warm, salty breeze.
Or you can engage in a practice and stay at it quite diligently, but the practice can turn into a ritual, a performance, an empty shell – and inside nothing much is happening. Then you sit down to sleep, not to meditate.
Here are two keywords for the practice of meditation (and actually any other practice): motivation and steadiness.
We need to really know why we are doing it – that’s motivation.
And then we need to find a way to continually refresh it and to stick to the work – in good and in bad times – that is steadiness.
Negative & Positive Motivation
To remember death can be a potent way of kicking yourself in the butt to get going on the path and to refresh your motivation when you start getting sidetracked.
Or looking closely at the truth of suffering, to recognize that you always suffer, that the “little me” is actually made of suffering. That suffering awaits around every corner and is already there as a dormant potential even in the most pleasurable of outer experiences.
Most spiritual traditions, including Buddhism, have employed these two reminders to get their students on track and to keep them going.
You could say that this is a way to remind and motivate yourself with “negative” ideas – something you want to get away from. Of course, there are also “positive” reminders – things that you might want to get to, such as Love, Truth, and Enlightenment – or any other word that is meant to describe your True Nature.
In the Yoga tradition, our inner Being is called Sat-cit-ananda, meaning being-consciousness-bliss. Mmm… that sounds lovely, don’t you think? I especially like the idea of Bliss. Even just hearing the word gives me an inner pleasurable, silky, juice feeling.
So by all means, use positive reminders to get inspired. And yet, the positive reminders can also be a trap, for we create ideas in our mind about how and what it is where we want to get to… while the truth is, you really can’t know. The Supreme lies beyond the mind, so the mind can not know what it is. And the mind is made up of your thoughts. So thoughts can’t penetrate there.
What is Your Motivation?
But now check-in with yourself. What is your motivation? Right now, truly.
I suggest you make it very personal. What’s up in your life? What doesn’t work? What do you find problematic inside of yourself?
Don’t settle with the words I’ve just been using. Don’t say “I seek Enlightenment.”
Maybe that’s true or maybe not, but surely you can investigate into this a little bit more. What is in it for you, when you attain enlightenment? What do you expect from it? What would that give you? And how would your experience be different from what it is now?
See: it’s important to become more specific and simple, not to settle with blanket terms.
Non-Doing & Surrender
Ultimately true meditation starts once you have ceased to try to meditate, once you don’t do anything anymore and just rest in pure awareness. The essence of meditation is non-doing and surrender. But you can’t do anything to get to non-doing. And you can’t surrender, since the thing you need to surrender is yourself.
But at the same time, you need to do something and you need to try to surrender. So put yourself to the task, as fully as you can and see if you can let go more and more along the way.
The great sage Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj always said, that there is only one thing that truly counts on the spiritual path: Earnestness. He said, that if you are really earnest, then any practice will get you to the goal. But if you aren’t earnest, you can do all the practices in the world, and will never arrive.
So I invite you to get to the core of your motivation. To look your current situation straight in the eye and then to say: “Okay. This is why I’m doing it.”
And then to do the work. And then to continually check where you’re at. To refresh your motivation, to stay focused.
True meditation means looking directly at your experience. Investigating what is happening right here and now, finding out what you can be aware of and who it is that is aware.
All right. I think I’ve written quite enough here. Time to let it all sink in and then rest again.
May you see the truth and find inner peace.