This past Monday, I went to hear a talk from the wonderful Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche who has a new book called Open Heart, Open Mind. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds great. And I loved what he had to say about it.
He started out by saying that when he first came to the West to teach, he really focused on (and I’m paraphrasing here) explaining the essential points of the dharma as clearly as possible. People picked up on this very quickly, he said. But something wasn’t quite right. They seemed to comprehend the outer meaning but not, as he phrased it, the “heart meaning.” He realized, he said, that in the West cognitive ability is very, very strong—but emotional comprehension is weak. In the East, he continued, heart energy is good. People are more likely to feel happy and the focus on “getting things done” may take a back seat. For us, it is the opposite, even, he hinted, extremely so. And when cognitive capability is emphasized and emotional intelligence is not and it’s all married to a fear-based education system that encourages accomplishment over all things—it can be quite difficult to understand and apply the dharma.
So, whether or not you hold with his view of East vs West, I think we can agree that, for many, many of us, there is an undue focus on achievement. And, hey, I’m all for achievement. I myself am very ambitious and hope to accomplish much in this lifetime, on all sorts of levels. But when I try to apply to meditation practice my normal way of jumping in, pushing myself, trying to hit certain marks and then challenging myself further the moment I do, well, it just doesn’t “work.” Meditation is very interesting this way. I can personally attest to the notion that the fruits of meditation are real. I’ve been practicing for over 15 years and there aren’t enough words in this or any other language to explain the profound impact of this practice on my world. It changes everything. Everything. Even if I could explain it, it would sound nutty because it is just so personal. For each of us, the journey of meditation will be different and I can’t tell you what it will look like for you.
I can, though, tell you this: that the true meaning of your practice arises when you do one thing and this one thing has way, way more power than trying your super-hardest best or willfully throwing yourself at the dharma—and that thing is this: RELAX.
Release your agenda. If you can’t, release your agenda to release your agenda. It’s OK.
Stop trying so hard all the time. If you can’t, then relax with yourself as one who just really, really wants to try. It’s OK.
And, if possible, try to stop wondering if you are doing it “right.” Of course it is so normal to wonder this about your meditation practice. But here’s something to contemplate as you go forward into your practice on this or any other day. As long as you make the effort to apply the technique, there is no way to do this practice wrong. However, there is also no way to do it right. So as you experience moments of so-called failure—I’ll never get this meditation thing down—rather than beating yourself up and redoubling your effort, relax and appreciate yourself for your great, noble, and unending intention to improve your world, then let go and return to your breath. As you experience moments of so-called success—I think I’ve got this meditation thing nailed!—rather than wondering, OK, what’s the next mark I’ve got to hit, relax and appreciate yourself for your supremely capacious mind, then let go and return to your breath.
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