Meditation can be a very pleasant experience. We focus our attention, breathe with a regular rhythm, allow our bodies to “stand down” from the events of an often stressful day, and experience the body’s relaxation response. The alert and relaxed body/mind feels great. So what’s wrong with that?
Nothing! We need the relief, and knowing that relief from stress is a breath away is a tremendous form of resilience. Sometimes my day’s demands become overwhelming, and I can feel the fatigue encroaching like fog on San Francisco bay. My neck gets sore and stiffened up, my stomach growls and I get a bit cranky. It can be quite unpleasant! But awareness of this depleted state arises and I take a mindful breath and feel relief. My body lets go of “vigilance mode” and I begin to respond to my world instead of react to it.
Sometimes the pleasantness of the relaxation response can become seductive. Considering how difficult life can get, that’s understandable. Sitting in stillness, feeling very pleasant, your breath, your thoughts, your perceptions flowing along, not clinging, continuously noticing; it can be better than any narcotic. But this is when you have to exercise caution and wisdom, because now it is so easy to make your meditations about getting something, getting that “good” feeling and getting rid of those “bad” feelings, and that can really throw you off.
That’s not what our mindfulness work is about. Put simply, mindfulness is about staying present with whatever body/mind state we happen to have in this moment. It may sound paradoxical, but simply having the intention to stay present with whatever IS in this moment, whether pleasant or unpleasant by our estimation, allows our body/mind to find its own equilibrium. Right effort is often no effort, simply mindful awareness and attention.
Listen, I know that life is rough and each of us can get overwhelmed even on a good day. And if you’re carrying the body memories of abuse, the pain of anxiety or depression, the encoded behaviors of addiction, the desire for relief can become enormous, and very difficult to resist. That’s when your training must come into play. Go back to the very basics of your practice. Sit, sit with attention, follow your breath, notice the sounds while you breathe. Mind will wander; that’s what minds do. Notice the wandering, accept yourself as you are, breathe. Notice the breathing. Notice the sounds in the background, then mind wanders again. Notice the wandering, come back to the breath………
And so it goes. Our practice doesn’t come to an end point. There is no end point. There is only now.