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Why does meditation have to be so hard? According to Jason Siff, there is an inherent tension in meditation practice between your mind as it is and the meditation instructions you use. In his book Unlearning Meditation: What to Do When the Instructions Get in the Way (the December Tricycle Book Club selection), Siff encourages us to take a bird’s-eye view of our meditation instructions so that we can see the concepts and beliefs that are embedded within them. When we get behind the instructions and understand how the concepts within them function, we find that we often sort our meditation experiences into acceptable and unacceptable, right and wrong. This kind of rigid thinking about our practice can lead to both frustration and what Siff calls “meditator’s guilt.”

For experienced meditators, “unlearning meditation” is about dropping unwanted habits from your current practice and gaining a renewed commitment to sitting. For newcomers, Siff teaches a method that he has developed called Recollective Awareness Meditation, which, as the name suggests, emphasizes recalling experiences one has had during meditation and using memory to cultivate present moment awareness. For all readers, Siff presents a way to practice meditation that is radical in its gentleness and openness, telling us that during meditation “anything that happens is okay.”

Listen to Tricycle’s Sam Mowe speak with Siff about unlearning meditation. Topics include: Is meditation supposed to be difficult? Should meditation be relaxing?

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