I’m sitting every day and I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. What should I do?
Ideally, teachers respond not just to the question but also to the person asking it. We would want to know more about how long you have been sitting every day and for how long you sit. What happens during your meditation, and how have you worked with it?
What motivates you to practice, and is your practice really designed to get you where you want to go? Does this question of getting somewhere arise only in regard to sitting or in other aspects of your life as well? Does it arise from an intelligence that points to something that needs to be changed, or is it indicative of a more chronic tendency toward doubt and self-judgment?
We are often attracted to the dharma because we want something—to be less angry, more relaxed, less fearful, more loving. We want to suffer less and live more expansively, with greater freedom and less constriction. In other words, we quite naturally come to contemplative practice with expectations. It is important to know the difference between the desire/aspiration that gets us to practice and the desire/craving that creates suffering, that unquenchable longing for life to be other than it is. The relationship between dukkha (suffering/unsatisfactoriness) and tanha (craving/aversion) can be understood as the difference between how my life in this moment actually is, and how I want it to be. The greater this difference, the greater the suffering. One may also see that an attachment to expectations arising from these wishes is directly correlated to suffering. Great expectations often lead to great suffering. So what does “progress” on the Great Way look like? How do I generate energy for this practice without creating desire, aversion, or confusion? What should be happening when I sit day after day?
Imbedded in this question of getting somewhere is the assumption that something should be happening other than what is actually happening. Maybe I feel there should be more calmness, less back pain, or certain mystical experiences. I may wish that the image I have of myself as patient, nonreactive, and loving would be how I act when my teenager yells at me or my boss is demeaning or threatening. After all, if I’m sitting like a Buddha, shouldn’t I behave like one?
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