The Continuing Saga of Meditation and Prayer

I’m one month into my meditate pray-a-thon, and I have to admit that this is both easier and far harder than I expected. I thought I’d stumble over my schedule and be unable to apply butt to seat to keep my daily appointment with myself.  That has turned out to be the easy part. I made a public commitment, and except for weekends when my schedule gets scrambled, I’m sitting in my meditation chair at the appointed time five days a week.

What’s tough is what I do when I’m in that seat, particularly when it comes to meditation, particularly when it comes to meandering through my mind, watching the old movie scenes that pop up in front of my eyes, listening to dialogue from last night’s TV show, replaying yesterday’s conversation, obsessing over today’s work and on and on ad nauseum.

The first week I meditated I felt like a Zen pro. I was so darn cool. My mind emptied. I focused on my big question, and I was Right. There. I was thoroughly impressed with myself. And then everything began to feel routine. I made it routine. That was the point after all, to create a practice for myself of clearing mind, setting intention, getting past my own mental limitations. But when I do anything almost as often as I brush my teeth, that bright, shiny new practice quickly feels as old and mundane as applying toothpaste to toothbrush. Mindful becomes mindless in a nattering it’s-time- to-get-up-and-ignore-this kinda way.

I’m sitting in my alleged meditation longer now, and getting less out of it. Very frustrating. I don’t know if there’s a solution to this except to continue applying butt to seat and bringing my mind back to my practice over and over and over and over again. At some point the inside of my brain has got to get tired of babbling. Right?

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3 Responses to The Continuing Saga of Meditation and Prayer

  1. Matthew Gatheringwater says:

    I’m curious about the usually unspoken expectations that accompany spiritual practice. From your description, for example, I’d conclude that you think that meditation is something you get better at with more practice and that the quality of an experienced person’s meditation is better than that of a novice. Those expectations seem familiar to me from my own attempts at meditation, but when I examined them, I found the expectations did not arise from my experience, but from cultural cues about what meditation was supposed to be like.

    Is it possible that the meditation experience you describe was easy when you needed it, but more difficult when you needed it less? Is meditation one of those things that is more efficacious when performed infrequently?

    People who are invested in a spiritual hierarchy have an incentive to believe they get more out of a spiritual practice if they put more in, but I don’t have that incentive. I don’t have to be frustrated. I interpret the kind of difficulty you describe as a sign that maybe meditation isn’t what’s going to be helpful to me right now. When I need the calmness and clarity for which I turn to meditation, I don’t seem to have much trouble achieving it.

    One person’s perspective, for what it is worth…

  2. dianesilver says:

    Matthew,

    Thanks so much for your comments! I never thought about meditation that way before. That’s an interesting perspective and very wise. For myself, though, I think regular practice may be important. By making this mental hygiene as regular as brushing my teeth and washing my hair, I’m constantly bringing myself back to my non-material center. I struggle and flop around, but I do eventually get back to that core, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Meanwhile, daily life pulls me every which way. It flings irritations and temptations in front of me and screams “look, look, this is important!” Daily life makes the trivial seem important and the momentous look insignificant. Meditation forces me to stop and take notice, even if I fall far, far short of Buddha. But then, I wonder if the struggle is also the point.

  3. I have never been a disciplined meditator, so I don’t know from personal experience how it works. But I suspect that regular practice leads to greater results.

    George Leonard wrote an excellent little book some years back called Mastery. It was aimed at people who took up sports, and drew a great deal on his experience in the study of Aikido, but it is probably applicable to practices such as meditation.

    In it, he talked about those who dabble in activities, generally trying something and quitting when it gets difficult or one reaches a limit. He also talked about reaching a plateau — a period during which no matter what you do, you don’t seem to improve. He suggested that plateaus are actually very important, and that staying with your study through that period — no matter how frustrating it is — will lead to rewards.

    I know this is true with Aikido. I suspect it is true of many other things, from tennis to Tai Chi.

    BTW, I just checked and Mastery is still in print. Definitely worth a read.

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