Making meditation less scary

I am a stuggling yogi. I like the physical practice but understand that this is just the tip of the iceberg. In particular: meditation. It is scary, boring, of dubious value, and I fear failure.

Stop my mind from its constant buzzing and worry and fear? Not in this lifetime.

But this blog post on elephant journal–called 5 obstacles to meditation— makes me feel more hopeful. The author is a retired Yale prof of medicine and psychologist who I think studied with Jack Kornfield, a leading US authority on meditation. (Kornfield’s book, A Path with Heart, was required reading for my yoga teacher training and references a Yale psychologist who becomes a skillful meditator). Seth Segall writes:

Can we let go of expectations that our minds will always be clear, calm, and steady? No matter how much practice you have had, it’s unreasonable to expect anything else. After all, our minds, like everything else, are affected by causes and conditions. Can we extend compassion and lovingkindness to ourselves in such moments?

It’s said that when we practice meditation we are actually practicing three separate skills: 1) staying with the object of meditation, 2) recognizing when we’ve drifted off, and 3) returning to the object without fuss or judgment. When we have a “good meditation,” i.e, when our concentration is good and we’re able to stay with our object of meditation, we are developing the first skill. When we keep drifting and returning, even if we do it 100 times in a sitting, we’re developing the second and third skills. These, in fact, may be the most important skills in terms of improving our daily lives: recognizing when we’re no longer present and returning to mindfulness.

The poet William Blake wrote in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” Keep watching your mind just as it is. Turning poison into wisdom is the path of the Buddhas.

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