Prompted by some recent discussions with people on the mindfulness course I’ve been running, I thought I’d write something about setting aside our usual goal-oriented approach to things. We’d been talking about judging our mindfulness practice as good or bad, effective or non-effective. Then someone summed it up perfectly saying “I’ve realised there’s no such thing as bad practice”. Exactly.
So yes, with mindfulness practice, it’s all good. The distracted sessions, the bored, or daydreamy or restless or peaceful ones – they’re all of equal value. But even knowing this, we can still get taken in by those thoughts popping up in meditation of “I’m really getting somewhere now,” or “I feel so spacious and relaxed and I want to always be like this” or “This is useless, I can’t meditate, who am I kidding?”
The crucial importance of this non-judging attitude isn’t easy to take on board and at increasingly subtle levels the judging goes on and on. Just this morning as I realised my mind had strayed off into planning thoughts yet again, a little thought voiced it’s opinion – “I’m really not good at meditating, am I?” Catching my inner critic at work like this, I reminded myself that the point is just to practice. Just to get down on that cushion (or chair) and show up for it. What happens next is less important.
Even a distracted, fragmented kind of meditation is worth its salt. Through it we learn a little more about how our unruly minds work. We’re bearing with and being with our experience. We are also bringing ourselves to physical stillness and presence which in itself is a mini revolution compared to the business as usual of never-ending restless doing-ness.
My main teacher, Lama Shenpen Hookham, often speaks about how important it is to not lose heart when we meditate, when we feel that we’re not getting anywhere. That the “successful” meditator is the one who doesn’t give up, in spite of all frustration. Also, the other day listening to a talk by Jeff Foster, I was struck by his reply to the question “what is true meditation?” that it is “meditation without a goal”.
Perhaps this doesn’t sound like much fun or a bit pointless? Sometimes I ask myself that same question (and I think it’s important to continue to ask questions, in any arena of life).
So what is the point? Oh, lots of reasons why – the flashes of understanding that come sometimes when you’re least expecting it, the growing sense of groundedness and easefulness in the world and the heart opening more and more. Those are just a few but – unlike a child tearing open a bud to make the flower come out more quickly – you need patience.
When I was thinking about this a book arrived in the post entitled “The Path is the Goal”. I’ve re-written that into “Practice is the Goal”, my new slogan. It really helps me to remember that.