Of all the important realizations I’ve had about meditation over the years, this one is most important but also the most widely misunderstood.
Meditation is a state, not a verb.
You cannot “do” meditation.
Let me give you an example.
You can consciously (a) raise your right hand, (b) open and close your eyes, and (c) walk. These are things that you can do. You decide to do them and the result is immediate.
Try it. Close your eyes. Raise your right hand.
See. The result is immediate.
However, you cannot sleep on demand. Sleep is not something you “do”. Transitioning from waking to sleeping is a state change. You can only “do” the preparation, not the falling asleep itself. You can consciously lie down, close your eyes, and get comfortable. Then sleep comes.
Meditation is much the same. It is a state defined as deep dreamless sleep while awake. In fact, it is often referred to as the fourth state, as in, (1) waking, (2) dreaming, (3) dreamless sleep, and (4) meditation.
Take a moment to think about the definition.
Meditation is like deep dreamless sleep while awake.
It is a state, and, in the same way that you cannot sleep on demand, you cannot meditate on demand. You cannot reach the state instantly, not in the same way that you can raise your right hand.
The practices preceding meditation are relaxation, stillness, and mental focus. Those are things you can “do.” They are the preparation. Then, if you the circumstances are right, you can transition from the waking state to the meditative state.So, when people say they are going “to meditate” they aren’t talking about the state of meditation, but the preparatory practices—sitting still, relaxing, focusing—all of which they can “do”.
Confusing the practices with the state, well, is confusing.
You see, if people think they can “do” meditation, they become frustrated every time they don’t achieve the state.
Think of it this way. Have you noticed that when you try to force yourself to fall asleep, it often backfires? You push your head into the pillow, keep reminding yourself that you have to wake up early, you try changing the temperature, try every imaginable position to lie in, and so on, but the more you try, the less likely you are to fall asleep.
The same is true about meditation. The more you push, the less likely you are to reach the state and experience peace.
On the other hand, if you understand that meditation is a state, then your only job is to create the right circumstances. You focus on what you can “do”—relax, sit still, concentrate—and then sometimes the state comes, sometimes it does not. Either one is fine.
With practice—and in the same way that most of us can fall asleep each night—you can reach the meditative state more often and with more consistency if you use this approach.
Do what you can, then let go of the outcome.
Author & Interfaith Minister
Read Baby Steps to Meditation to learn a step-by-step approach that will get you closer to experiencing the state of meditation on a regular basis.
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