The idea of progress is one of the most challenging and confusing aspects of meditation. It can be seen as meditation’s central paradox!
One the one hand, meditation is a skill that requires discipline to gain some level of control over the chaotic workings of the mind – it’s not going to occur overnight. It’s a process of experience and increasing competency that can take years, decades, and ultimately a lifetime to achieve (and even then, I don’t believe pure enlightenment is an achievable state, so by definition meditation is an ongoing process toward this unattainable goal).
On the other hand, the central tenet of meditation is centring oneself in the present, letting go of the burden of thought, and surrendering yourself to the acceptance of life as it is in this moment – a practice that in theory can be fully experienced in a split second. The key phrase here is “in theory”.
In reality, your mind has an arsenal of tricks and deceptions that it employs to hinder this sudden realisation. The first is general scepticism about the practice itself, convincing you that the benefits are imaginary or marginal at best – not worth an investment of time amongst your busy schedule.
The next is giving meditation a go, but feeling frustration at the inability to quieten your mind (this one claims the most victims)
The we have the acceptance of a certain degree of benefit conferred from meditation – potentially felt from limited meditation experience – but with doubt towards the more exotic benefits extolled by meditation’s most vehement supporters.
The next level up is being convinced of meditation’s grand benefits and experience some of these benefits yourself, but finding it challenging to commit to the habit despite this outlook.
Once you overcome this habit barrier, you begin to reach the truly interesting challenges and deceptions of meditation. At this point, you may glimpse an insight into the world through the looking glass. But into the momentary vacuum of your mind comes rushing is a flood of thoughts, like “Damn, how good am I at meditation!”. Or questions about whether you just witnessed a moment of transcendence…
All of which are mediated by your ego grabbing tightly onto your sense of self after a moment of weakness. This cycle may plague you into the foreseeable future, whenever you venture close to this state of mind. This is the level that I think I’m at now, which means that this post’s train of thought it travelling onward into the inexperienced darkness; but I’ll push on!
I think I know rationally what the means are to overcome this hurdle. One must have the degrees of freedom in the mind to quickly realise that this itself is just another arising thought, and to let it pass. Let it pass without buying into the hoax of proficiency that the ego is promoting. Only then can you return to this state of mind repeatedly, even within a single session.
Projecting forward, the next major challenge looks to be smoothing the transition between practise and everyday life. It’s all well and good to have a promising meditation practise, but if it doesn’t shine a light on the thoughts and behaviours you exhibit throughout the day, then what is it good for?
So, I can envision that the ultimate challenge along this trajectory is to have the energy and presence of mind to continually be aware of when your thoughts start to stray, and course correct in as little time as possible.
Only then will the exotic benefits of meditation begin to become your reality!