The Joys Of Not Having To Be Careful
In life, there’s better and worse. You can say the wrong thing, you can make the wrong decision, you can trust the wrong person. Even with people you’ve known for years or situations you’ve experienced a thousand times, you might be one mistake away from a catastrophic blunder.
This is something you learn early in life. You learn it when you trip over in the playground or burn your tongue on some hot food or break your mother’s favourite vase.
As you get older you discover new mistakes. You fail an important exam, your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you, you get fired from your job. These early experiences lead to a fear of the consequences of making mistakes, which, ironically, lead to a new kind of mistakes. The worst kind; regrets.
Here we find mistakes like being too afraid to tell the person you love how you feel about them. Being too timid to apply for the job you always wanted, or too proud to admit that you were wrong when it mattered. Mistakes upon mistakes.
I don’t mean to paint too bleak a picture here. Clearly, there’s more to our lives than our fear of making mistakes. The point I’m making is that almost from the very beginning of our lives, we’re aware that mistakes are possible and that they’re bad. Everything we do is aimed at avoiding them.
That’s why it’s not even slightly surprising that we bring the same attitude to meditation. We approach meditation as another thing to get right. Something to be good at. Something to avoid failing at. Even though the way mistakes are defined in meditation vary, they’re always there lurking.
Those who meditate to make themselves feel calmer feel that they must be going wrong if they spent their meditation feeling anxious. Those attempting to develop concentration feel like they’ve failed if they continually lose track of their breath. Those who crave spiritual enlightenment wonder where they’re going wrong when they still feel lost.
But these mistakes only exist because the practitioner has created a separation within themselves. In fact, mistakes can only exist because of separation. Mistakes happen because you are interacting with something separate from yourself and sometimes you, or someone else, judge that interaction to be wrong. If there is no judgement, there can be no mistake. If there is no external goal, it’s impossible to fall short.
For most people, living life with this attitude is impractical, or at least seems to be. But meditation is an exception. With meditation, there needn’t be any separation. When you meditate there’s just you and…well, you. Dissatisfaction is only possible if you decide that you are unsatisfactory, which is nonsensical because when you judge yourself in their way, who is dissatisfied with whom?
Feeling like you are getting meditation wrong is a result of bringing the same “mistake-avoidance” mechanics that dominate the rest of your life to the one place where they serve no purpose; your relationship with yourself. You can’t say the wrong thing to yourself, or hurt your own feelings any more than you can tickle yourself or threaten yourself. To do this you’d have to be able to separate yourself into the accuser and the accused, or the aggressor and the victim, and this is impossible.
Meditation is just an opportunity to spend time with yourself. Nothing else is necessary, and more importantly, nothing else is possible. There is nobody else present other than fictional characters that you have made up in your own mind. But you can’t be in conflict with them, you can only imagine that you are. There’s no way to fail, there are just imaginary standards that you can impose on yourself. There’s nothing you could be doing better, sitting down with yourself is already enough.