It always amazes me how quick people are to judge themselves if they’ve tried meditating and didn’t drop into ecstatic transcendence on the first go. People seem to believe meditation shouldn’t require effort. After all, it’s supposed to be relaxing, right? So if they’re not relaxed, they must be the only pathetic loser on the planet who couldn’t do it! This is analogous to walking into a gym and after 20 minutes looking in the mirror, expecting to see a change.
The fact is that while meditation can be incomparably rewarding, it’s a long-distance run that takes work and a steady commitment. Yes, sometimes you can sit down and instantly “drop in.” But for long-term results, peak experiences still need to be contextualized in a solid, steady foundation of practice.
Also, meditation isn't always designed to be relaxing. In the case of mindfulness, for example, we’re cultivating insight. Mindfulness decreases stress and heightens fulfillment, so we can find relaxation more satisfying. But relaxation isn't necessarily the intended outcome of practice. It can help to understand what type of meditation you’re practicing before you judge yourself for doing it wrong. There’s plenty of time for that!
So drop your expectations and be kind to yourself. Trust me, everyone else has a messy mind too, whether you can see it or not.
It’s essential to relate to meditation the same way you would to any good habit you want to introduce in your life, from dieting, to exercise, to practicing an instrument. Just get on the apparatus and take that first small step. Then rinse and repeat. Set goals. Mundane goals like, “I’m going to practice for 10 minutes a day for the next 90 days,” as well as deep goals to keep in mind your desired outcome.
Here’s a list of five major goals of mindfulness practice courtesy of my teacher, Shinzen Young: