How do we balance developing confidence and working with ego-clinging thoughts in meditation?
“There is no trick for avoiding our ego-clinging habits except to just keep noticing them and letting them go… So it’s time to develop a sense of humour about the whole thing!” – Lama Shenpen
A student writes: I have finished Coursebook One of the ‘Discovering the Heart of Buddhism’ course. I meditate daily for at least 30 minutes. When I first began several months ago I wasn’t even sure if I could sit for 15 minutes, now I am able to sit for up to an hour. My confidence has improved immensely.
Lama Shenpen: Excellent.
Student: I believe that I am beginning to intuitively integrate the sense of spaciousness, awareness and clarity. I feel I am beginning to catch glimmers of what the experience of aligning heart and mind and joining this alignment with space is like. This too gives me an increased sense of confidence.
I am finding that what seems like a breakthrough one week seems routine or obvious the next week. Is this normal for a beginning meditator?
Lama Shenpen: Yes, normal and good. It means that the pennies are starting to drop.
Student: On one hand I think that I understand that this could be an indication of growth in the practice. Yet I fear that I may be fooling myself and perhaps mistaking shallow insights for growth.
Lama Shenpen: I wouldn’t think in terms of growth so much as getting the whiff of the trail. You just have to keep following it through. More pennies will drop as you keep going back to that place where the understanding is happening.
Don’t get hung up on any particular understanding – then it becomes just an idea. You have to keep returning to the place the understanding came from so that more understanding can well up – that is what the meditation is for.
Student: I certainly don’t want this to become a matter of the ego saying “Look at me – aren’t I a wonderful, insightful student?”
Lama Shenpen: It is amusing though when that happens – and then “Oh dear I have lost it, what has gone wrong? Am I the only one that is so confused?”
That’s the other side of the coin, isn’t it – two different versions of ego-grasping. It’s me and my experience and am I doing well or not – all that kind of worry.
It is just thoughts. You don’t have to take them too seriously. In essence they are all spacious nowhere-ness.
Student: I do find that I need to have a sense of confidence to carry on. I would appreciate your insight into the balancing of experiencing increased confidence in my practice without it becoming an instrument extolling my ego’s wish for ‘specialness’.
Lama Shenpen: Keep looking at the essence of all those ego-clinging thoughts. It is quite wonderful how thoughts appear in the spaciousness of awareness.
It sounds as if things are going well. No harm in saying so. There is no trick for avoiding our ego-clinging habits except to just keep noticing them and letting them go.
They creep into every situation as long as they are there, and you may as well accept that they are going to be there for a long time. So it’s time to develop a sense of humour about the whole thing!