Why You Shouldn't Set Meditation Goals
I don't meditate anymore, yet I enjoy the benefits of meditation more than ever.
I used to meditate every day. I understood the numerous benefits of it, and I understood that real progress would require a real commitment. So for thirty minutes every day, I sat on my pillow. For many months, I dutifully followed this practice, until one day I got fed up and said "screw it."
Interestingly, the freedom of mind that was necessary to reject meditation brought me closer to the state of meditation than my committed practice. And I finally understand why: I was meditating under a faulty premise that prevented me from realizing the power and potential that meditation holds for us.
Now, I see that meditation is the natural state of our minds.
The state of meditation can be loosely described as a shift in awareness from the personal to the cosmic. We hear the chatter in our heads but don't react to, encourage, or disparage it. Thoughts don't necessarily disappear, but they cease to look meaningful and interesting.
As we do this, our sense of self changes. Instead of paying attention to the birds flying through the sky, we notice the sky that contains the birds. Instead of seeing the black squiggles that form words on the page, we notice the open space that holds the words. Instead of sound, we hear the silence that allows it. We start to feel that we are the sky, the space, the silence.
The practice of meditation misses its potential when we see it as an exercise to do in a given period of time. We wake up, go to work, come home, meditate, eat dinner, etc. When meditation is another item on the to-do list, it runs the risk of becoming too compartmentalized. It can become separate from life.
Meditation is a microcosm of life, not one of its compartments. It's supposed to be something we do with total presence, for no reason other than to do it. In other words, it's something we do without the goal of getting somewhere from it. Almost everything we do has that motivation—we want to get something, move forward, improve ourselves.
But if meditation becomes a goal-oriented activity, we've lost sight of its real purpose. Which is that it has no "purpose." The point of sitting is simply to sit. That's what it feels like to be truly in the now.
And that's why I stopped.
I wasn't able to separate meditation from my desire to get something from it. Every time I set aside those 30 minutes, I hoped that by the end, I would feel greater clarity around some of my problems, greater ease in my relationships, and more focus in my work.
After many months, I honestly assessed whether I had made progress, and I hadn't. So I gave myself permission to stop meditating. And weirdly enough, when I did that, I "got" meditation on a different level. Meditation is a freeing of the mind from the pull of thinking — including thinking about meditation.
My thinking about meditation had become a cage: I needed to do it every day without fail; I wanted to reach a quiet mind; I had expectations around it and was disappointed when I couldn't meet them.
It was the same as all the other chatter in my mind. But this chatter seemed different. It was special. I needed that chatter to keep myself on task and focused on my goal. And that's why I couldn't achieve it.
When I quit meditating, I finally saw that those, too, were all thoughts. Meditation is the realization of who and what we really are. And we're definitely not the chattering mind — even when that mind speaks with a voice that's meant to improve us. It's still chatter.
Ironically, when I stopped listening to that voice by stopping my rigid meditation regimen, it stopped having any power. It was quieted. Then I started to feel a lot more meditative!
What I learned? Anything can be meditation.
If meditation is a state of detachment from thought, why do we have to sit to be there? If we've placed conditions on the freedom of our mind, all we're doing is limiting our freedom of mind. Our minds are already free.
That's why walking, running, gardening, talking to friends, driving to work — even being stressed, angry, and sad — can be meditative. Meditation is the resting place of our minds. It's the natural state of our thoughts when we're not barging in with ideas about how to fix and improve them.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't meditate in the traditional way.
I don't sit in meditation often because that's just my preference. But I’m not saying you shouldn't, or that it is holding you back. The important thing is seeing that it isn't the sitting that gets you to your natural meditative state. You can be in that state with any external, or even internal, circumstance.
That's because meditation is who you really are. Peace, well-being, and love are who you are deep down. Accessing our innate wisdom can be done anytime, anywhere. If those things are who we really are, how can we ever be separate from them?