Having meditated for years, I think the above question is the primary challenge for newbies. What is the “experience” of meditation? What am I supposed to feel? The word meditation, is what I call a “mushy” term with no specificity. There is no shortage of ways to meditate but how is a novice supposed to know what to expect?
When I was 20, I took up downhill skiing. Besides remaining upright, the goal was to execute what is known as a parallel turn wherein both skis are very close together and through weight shifting alone, one can leave in one’s wake a lazy S track in the snow that looks like it was made by a single ski. In the learning process, the rote beginner always asks, “Did I do it right?”
Sooner or later you do the perfect parallel turn. When that happens, no one has to tell you, you did it correctly. I had the same experience with meditation. I had read about meditation; how wonderful it was, etc., etc. I followed my breath. I listened to guided meditations; sat for long periods, imagining all sorts of beautiful scenes. I even took a flying carpet ride in my mind to a magical meditation place. All of this resulted in, “Is this all there is?” Very disappointing. Eventually I became very frustrated and vowed to achieve this amazing state by just sitting and breathing no matter how long it took. I did this every day for about 2 months.
After what seemed like forever, one day…… my brain STOPPED! I discovered that I could actually will my mind to stop in mid-sentence. It was so strange and amazing to have the incessant noise and chatter just disappear. Nothing! Nada! Just empty space. Not even the thought, “Wow! This is awesome!” … which it was.
So what was the big deal? After doing my first mental “parallel turn”, I could do as many as I wished; just like skiing. The benefit? I found that I had been expending a lot of energy, just thinking, all day … 60,000 thoughts a day I have been told … usually the same 60,000 thoughts every day. After several minutes or longer, I came back to this world but two strange things had happened to me.
- Without the constant “work” of thinking I actually felt rested and,
- When I came back it seemed that I knew more than when I “left”.
So, why is achieving this blissful nothingness so difficult? Simply put, we tell stories, constantly. It’s the stories in our head that won’t shut off. If it is not a story about the past, it’s a future projection. If we are in the present, it’s what we see or hear on our phones, in our environment or in our endless to-do lists. It is judgements: “why is that driver so slow?” “They call that a sale?” “That was a stupid thing you just did!” … ad nauseum. We are constant story tellers.
So, if you are serious about meditation, know it may take some time but your goal is to NOT review a chapter in your biography, your future or what you are experiencing right now. Just close your eyes and try to not label what you are experiencing. That’s right, observe without comment. If thoughts do come up (and they will), don’t judge or tell a story about them. Just say, “Thank you for sharing” and let them go. For example, if you hear an ambulance siren, try hearing it for the first time without knowing what it is … no commentary, no story. Apply the same technique to your other four senses. Experience everything that comes to you “for the first time”. You will be amazed by the difference in your perceptions and … who knows, eventually you may discover that you just had NO THOUGHT! Congratulations! You have opened the door to a whole new world full of magic … a world of nothing at all. You just made your first mental parallel turn and no one will have to tell you that you did it right. When you finally successfully meditate, I hope you will agree that it was well worth the effort.