One of the questions that most of us will end up asking about our meditation practice is “how do I know if I’m doing it right?” We sit there minute after minute, day after day, month after month and it is totally natural to wonder, am I really doing anything? Is there a right way to meditate? How do I know if I’m doing it?
There are several possible answers to this situation.
1. The simplest answer is this: if at any point during your practice, you notice that attention has strayed away from breath and you remember to return it, you are doing it “right.”
2. Another way to approach this question is with another question, best posed some weeks or months after having begun to practice: “Have I noticed any differences in my life since beginning a meditation practice?” Perhaps you notice that you feel a tad more cheerful or patient or equanimous. Or maybe you are becoming a bit more sensitive or easily impacted by things that happen around you. If you are noticing any qualitative changes in your daily experience, you could imagine that your meditation practice is going pretty well, even if you think you’re a “bad” meditator, i.e. find it impossible to follow two consecutive breaths. After all, the goal of meditation isn’t isn’t to become a great meditator. It’s to become a great person.
3. The final possible answer is this. Who knows? This is a spiritual practice and as such is an object of mystery. If we really understood exactly how meditation “worked,” I’d say we had failed to understand it at all.
So the best bet is to keep on practicing. Stay with it. Do the best you can. And when you look back over your life, don’t spend too much time on the question, “was I meditating right” and focus instead on “did I live right?”
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