I often try to explain that one of the biggest misconceptions about meditation practice is that it is a form of self-improvement. It is not. In fact, it is a way of stepping off the (often vicious) self-improvement treadmill most of us run on 24/7 to instead accept ourselves exactly as we are. It is a time to give up all agendas and just be.
Hang out with yourself, exactly as you are. Make friends with yourself. Doing so with an agenda is the same as befriending another with an agenda. They can tell that something is fishy. Plus, we lose the magic and possibility of the interaction and it simply becomes a task. No one falls in love with a task, and, in a sense, meditation is a way of falling in love with yourself, warts and all, wisdom and all. After all, you are extremely love-worthy. Treating yourself as a work project tends to obscure all that.
So, quite naturally, such a view provokes a question like this one, from a reader
Q: If we are to approach meditation w/o an agenda, then how do we approach it? Curiosity? A vague “this is worth doing”? I think my expectations are realistic (I want to be in a clear space with just myself), but there is hope for some benefit in there as well… Any suggestions or thoughts on that?
A: There is no need to settle on an approach to your practice such as curiosity or a vague “this is worth doing.” Of course, since we are human, we will always hope for some benefit. As well we should! But in meditation practice, this is called “thinking.”
If, during meditation, the thought arises, “I will approach my meditation practice with curiosity,” you could let this go and return to the breath. If you discover a vague hope that it’s all worthwhile, ditto. Let this thought go and come back. When you notice that you “want to be in a clear space with just myself,” let that go, too.
When these thoughts come up pre- or post-meditation, just let them be. Don’t try to answer them through your intellect. Your life itself will be your answer. As your practice deepens, and the days, weeks, and months go by, answers to the question, “is this worth doing?” will unfold beyond your most rigorous expectations.
Yes, meditation practice brings all sorts of proven benefits to your mental and physical health. These are fantastic. If you meditate to become more patient or lower your blood pressure, that is awesome. But meditation is so much more than this. It is a path to enlightenment, one that can only be glimpsed when we put down our ideas and establish ourselves in the unknown.