Whew. This morning’s meditation session was a hard-fought grudge match between peace of mind and monkey mind.
I’ve been trying to establish a regular meditation practice, 20 minutes a day, with the same approach I bring to exercising: Suit up and show up. Every morning, I sit on my pillow, queue up a favorite guided meditation app, and do my best. Sometimes my mind cooperates; sometimes the monkey runs the show.
There have been times when my monkey has been so persistent, I’ve found myself leaping up and running from the effort before even realizing what I was doing. One minute I’m sitting quietly, the next I’m on my feet, in a pointless panic.
But recently, in a beginners’ class at a local meditation center, I learned something that changed everything.
Brother ChiSing, who taught the class, called it the Four Aspects of Meditation. This is basic stuff for real Buddhists, but for dabblers like me, it was an epiphany.
In short, the four aspects are:
This is the ideal, when the mind settles into the meditation, staying calm in the spaces between thoughts. It’s potentially the road to bliss.
Sure, focus is the ultimate goal, but that’s easier some days than others. Sometimes, despite best intentions, our brains career from the meditation to dinner. So we nudge ourselves back to the meditation. Then we veer off to thoughts about lunch. So we lead ourselves gently back … for a few breaths. Until we find ourselves thinking about work. And back to the meditation again. And so on. A little frustrating, but it’s some of the heavy lifting of meditation. This is mindfulness, and every time we notice our mind wandering and lead it back, we strengthen the mindfulness muscle.
Then there are those days when even mindfulness eludes us and our minds skitter all over the place. We replay conversations. Feel our leg falling asleep. Fight the urge to fidget and quit. What’s the point of continuing?In that case, the point is continuing. If we keep at it, stay with the meditation for whatever duration we’ve planned even though we’re jumping out of our skin, we strengthen our ability to persevere. And how can that not be good?
- Starting over.
And then there are the days when we cede to the will of the monkey, leaping up mid-meditation to do whatever we feel must be done that minute. It happens, and when it does, it’s easy to feel like a failure. But then, if we show up again next time, willing to forgive ourselves and give it another shot, and can do that every time we don’t live up to our intentions, without getting discouraged and self-critical, we are practicing self-compassion, another important tool for life.
This is all the Cliffs Notes version of this Brother ChiSing’s dharma talk; you can read or listen to the whole thing here. But this lesson has everything to do with the fact that I’ve managed to sit for 20 minutes almost every morning for a month. Knowing that even imperfect meditation has benefits makes trying and “failing” feel productive. This is meditation as a metaphor for life.
“… just as in life there is the blissful and the difficult, there is also the difficult and the blissful in meditation,” said Brother ChiSing. “These two ingredients are what help to make us into Buddhas, into the fully enlightened beings.”
Enlightenment is a long way off for me. But that’s OK. Me and my monkey mind are suiting up and showing up. And one way or another, that’s doing us good.