October 23

“Success” in Meditation – A Dialogue


 October 23

Question: I have previously tried a couple of different meditations, but was not successful with either. Do you think the technique you teach will be different?

Response: What do you mean by success?

Question: It means that my mind does not quiet down when I sit to meditate. It also means that I am not motivated to be committed to a practice.

Response: Thank you for your candidness. How long did you meditate before quitting?

Question: A few days..

Response: Well… Let us explore this issue for it is a common one..

Question: Ok. So, how does meditation work?

Response: The purpose of meditation is to cultivate inner silence. What is this inner silence? This is the timeless gap between thoughts, which is available to us throughout the day and frames the doorway to our inner self. Since this is always available, we do not create anything new with spiritual practices; we only become adept at recognizing what already is and has always been. By returning again and again to the object of meditation (breath, mantra, etc), we cultivate one-pointedness of the mind. The ordinary state of mind is that of diffusion – multiple and conflicting trains of thought which are often colored by specific emotional signatures. One-pointedness is the process by which the mind comes to focus on a single object. As we progress further, the object becomes increasingly “refined” whereby it is picked up at subtler and subtler levels. Additionally, the silent gap between thoughts increases, not because the gap is invented (it always is) but because the combination of one-pointedness and refinement leads to diminished thoughts.

Question: How long will it take for me to get there?

Response: The most accurate answer to this is this – as long as it will take. There is no timeline for progress in meditation, because it is dependent upon our individual make-up of tendencies consisting of our personalities, upbringing, culture, influences, desires, emotional imprints, repressed and suppressed issues, etc etc. In general however, the initial results of calmness, reduced stress, health benefits and sleep regulation occur relatively early within a few months. These benefits continue to deepen and evolve over time. Technically, there is no “there” to get to. As Yogani, my beloved teacher states, “the journey is from here to here”.

 Question: I’m not really sure what must happen while meditating. Can you elaborate?

Response: The truth is that every single practice will be unique. While one practice session may be “deep” with relatively fewer thoughts, the next one may be “mind-y” where it feels like no progress was made. It is important to remember that no sitting practice is futile – simply making the time and effort to sit still has been a worthwhile endeavor. Meditation works on the neurobiology (consisting of not only the brain and the nervous system but also the subtle body where the thoughts/impressions are stored) at various levels – at the surface level of thoughts and mind one day and the deeper level of subtle energies on another day. Thus, there is no set thing that “must” happen during any given sitting practice. The beauty of this unpredictability is that it makes us more pliant and forces us to let go of control, an all-important necessity at later stages of spiritual practice.

Questioner: So then, what is the sign of “success” in meditation?

Response: The only true sign of success in meditation is what happens in daily life. Whether one attains depth in meditation or not is irrelevant if their life is not being transformed as a result of the practice. This transformation occurs slowly but surely, often first noticed by those around us. Transformation becomes evident in the subtle ways in which we carry ourselves, behave with others and handle day-to-day matters. Success is noticed when old patterns of reactivity, judgment and ill-will begin to fall away and in an increasingly greater capacity to look beyond our narrow selves. These changes occur whether or not we are achieving perfectly still minds in meditation. Furthermore, achieving a perfectly still mind in meditation is a well-propagated myth. Yes, there are times when this does occur and the meditator disappears (such an event is called samadhi in yoga), but this is neither common nor necessary to make progress.

Questioner: Of all the nuances (posture, timing, duration, etc), what is the most important factor for progress?

Response: It is the deliberate cultivation of the habit to meditate. This is the most challenging factor for most of us in the context of already busy lives and over-committed schedules. It does take effort to make time to practice everyday and to make adjustments to our lifestyles to accommodate this. However, this great self-effort is eventually replaced by the meditation taking over the effort and directing itself. This too happens without a set timeline. Unfortunately, most people quit before this magical shift occurs. The key is to keep up the practice and have faith that it is working. This applies to any meditation technique – give it enough time (at least a few months) before deeming it a “failure”.

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