Meditation has a goal. How could it not? We need some reason to get out of bed in December and inhabit our cushion. Maybe we practice in order to feel more sanity, deal with physical or mental illness, or because we’d like to have something to talk about with our meditation instructor.
However, if we don’t check in periodically with the nature of our journey, it’s easy grasp after some “better” state of mind or posture. Let’s say I’m having what feels like a lousy meditation session; my mind is ungovernable, like a pack of wild horses. I feel disheartened at my lack of ‘progress.’ This might show up physically as stiffened posture as I try to hold, white knuckled, onto a peaceful mind. I’ve elevated the goal of the practice far above the nitty-gritty practice of just coming back to the breath.
The following two questions, when periodically applied, loosen up my habitual tendencies around meditation practice. What am I doing on this cushion anyway? Why am I here?
1) Would my meditation session be better if I had less thoughts?
What are we really training for with our meditation practice anyway? Is it contacting some very pleasant experiences (“I feel so Zen!”)? Or is it more a capacity, a skill?
Once when I was on a month-long retreat, I was complaining to my meditation instructor about the strong emotions and feelings that were coming up. I felt like I wasn’t practicing well. He compared my situation to a runner training on large hills – it’s hard but ultimately a more advantageous training experience. We can think of our very distracted and tumultuous meditation sessions in this way – good practice for the future, for the times when we will need meditation the most to bring us back.
2) To help us take a wider view of our practice (and therefore of the present moment), we can ask ourselves the following question: what does it feel like to be a human being, right now?
Note that we are not asking how am I doing as a meditator. We are enlarging the scope, giving us permission to not evaluate ourselves as a good or bad meditator but simply as a human being. When I ask this question of myself, I often get a sense of my own tightness or striving to have upright posture.
On December 8, I’ll be teaching a workshop on posture at IDP called “Letting Go of Fixation” addressing how we can develop a more embodied meditation posture while being kind and curious to ourselves. I’ll be drawing on my experience as an Alexander Technique teacher and meditator. Hope to see you there!