When Meditation Gets “Hard,” Part 2: Letting Go Of “Experience-Chasing” | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

When Meditation Gets “Hard,” Part 2: Letting Go Of “Experience-Chasing”

(This is an unofficial sequel to my piece at The Change Blog called “What To Do When Meditation Gets ‘Hard.’”)

Nearly 100% of the time (and it happened again last night), when someone asks me a question about meditation, it goes like this:  “I can’t meditate because I can’t empty my mind.”  Because this seems like a common concern, I thought it might be helpful to offer my take.

Notice that this question assumes that meditation is supposed to give you a particular experience — an experience of mental emptiness.  If you don’t have that experience when you meditate, you’re “doing it wrong,” and you need to change your approach.

“Getting It Right” And Suffering

Of course, this is a familiar way of thinking.  For example, we tend to assume that, if I’m feeling unhappy, I need to change some aspect of how I’m living — maybe get a new job or relationship.  If I’m feeling angry, I need to vent my anger, or do something to “improve” my mood.

In other words, we’re deeply conditioned to treat certain experiences as “right” and others as “wrong.”  If we’re having a “wrong” experience, we assume, we need to do something to make sure we have a “right” one going forward.

The trouble, as the Buddha pointed out, is that this is the very mindset that creates suffering.  We suffer when we label our present experience as “wrong” and demand a different one — making complaints like “I should have more money,” “I should be happier,” “I should have a better relationship,” and so on.

A Place Where It’s Okay To “Get It Wrong”

As is often said, meditation gives us a chance to let go of this habit of judging our experience.  Instead of resisting our thoughts and sensations, and grasping for “better” ones, it allows us to simply permit whatever experiences arise to be, just as they are.

We miss this opportunity when, as so many do, we see meditation as just another way to seek out a “good” experience.  Many of us, like I said, see meditation as a method for chasing the experience of mental blankness.  Others are chasing inner peace, relaxation, and so on.

The irony, I’ve found, is that letting go of the judgments we put on our experience is actually what produces peace.  We’re at peace when we’re no longer fighting against our current reality and trying to force it to be different — saying “no, I shouldn’t be thinking, I should be empty.”

Experience-Chasing In Moderation

I don’t mean to say that avoiding certain experiences, and pursuing others, is always “bad.”  After all, as human beings, we couldn’t exist if we weren’t chasing certain experiences from time to time — fleeing the experience of hunger and chasing the experience of having a full belly, for instance.

My point is that meditation gives us an opportunity to take a break from the cycle of constant experience-chasing — also known as the karmic wheel, or the cycle of suffering.  When we learn to see it that way, I think, it can be an intensely liberating thing to do.

10 thoughts on
When Meditation Gets “Hard,” Part 2: Letting Go Of “Experience-Chasing”

  1. Patricia

    right now I feel happy when I can stay seated and just breath for 20-30 minutes. I so often go to sleep these days. The joy of meditation for me is just breathing properly in the moment. I was so relieved when at a retreat the meditation leader went and got me a chair – because my knee does not bend correctly the leader said I would always be focused on trying to perfect position. For 12 years now I have done sitting meditation in a chair – people are amazed that I was given permission for this! and it works. I also often use a chair in yoga class – if it offends the teacher – I find another class :)

  2. Davina

    This is a great way to put it Chris. I haven’t meditated in a while, to be honest. The way you’ve described this, it feels to me like a chance to become that blank page just before the writer puts his/her pen to it; and knowing you won’t be the writer; nothing has to come from you. I’m planning a short hiking trip tomorrow and am looking forward to sitting this way out in nature.

  3. Walter

    Meditation has been a deep puzzle for me. My first impression of it is to have an empty mind, but such I find impossible. I know understand that meditation is letting the experience pass without being influenced by it; thereby becoming a passive observer. The more we detach ourselves from our minds, the more we see the bigger picture. :-)

  4. Stacey Shipman

    Meditation is hard I think in part because we are afraid of silence, of being with ourselves. “Stuff” comes up, and that is the stuff that sometimes hurts but at the same time will free us. As with anything new it takes time to find some comfort and benefit. I’m actually working on a post about this myself. Thanks for talking about it. Silence is an incredible healing practice.

  5. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Patricia — it sounds like you haven’t found it necessary to obey a strict set of rules to meditate “properly” — I think that’s definitely in the spirit of what I’m saying here.

  6. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Davina — I like that way of putting it — it sounds really liberating to think of yourself as the page rather than the writing — it takes a lot of responsibility of being the “doer” off your shoulders.

  7. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Walter — that sounds like a great practice — allowing the thoughts to arise in your mind, and also allowing those moments when the mind is blank, without ordering the mind to do this or that as we usually do in life.

  8. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Stacey — yes, I think that’s an important thing to remember about meditation — that it’s not necessarily going to bring peace or relaxation when we start doing it, because it requires us to experience what we’re normally running away from in our daily lives.

  9. Jannie Funster

    There is great freedom , yes in allowing thoughts to be, and not fighting them! And guess who I learned that from?? Chris — with his new gravatar!

    And is that YOUR cat? We have one just like that, except ours has a whole head, and body and everything.


  10. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Thanks Jannie — my public clamored for a color picture, and far be it from me to neglect the vox populi. Whole cats are hard to come by where I’m from, so I’ve been making do with the upper half of a head. No need to housebreak it, at least.

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