Student’s Question: How can we establish the right attitude towards our Meditation practice and not feel like we’re forcing ourselves?

How to develop the right attitude towards meditation: How can we avoid being too heavy handed about our practice when we feel like we’re forcing ourselves and setting ourselves up to fail?

A student writes:

“I have made sporadic efforts at a meditation, or ‘sitting,’ practice for nearly 20 years without it becoming a regular and established practice.

I recognise several things, one being my tendency to try to force things, and the fact that I try to start by making myself become something I am not, something I would like to be and lots of judgements come up.”

Lama Shenpen replies:

I hope you keep going with your interest in meditation which hasn’t left you in 20 years in spite of it not having really taken off yet, as it were. Yes, it is very likely that the problem is that you try to force things and approach the meditation with a kind of attitude of some kind, almost setting yourself up to ‘fail’ even before you start. It is a very common problem.

In some ways the attitude is the whole thing in terms of meditation. There isn’t anything to do or to fail at in the end. It’s just a matter of linking into your experience in a particular way and you actually have to find that way yourself. Nobody can tell you how to do it really. They can say things that inspire you, that trigger a response and give you a hint or a lead, but it’s really something within yourself that is doing the work. It is your Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity responding to the suggestion or example coming from outside, as it were.

So it’s very important when you sit to meditate that it really comes from you as a response to your own heart wish for happiness and truth. You really have to find something genuine within yourself that you can wholeheartedly go along with, and it may just be a deep longing for ease. So go with that. Then whatever else you do in the meditation, it links back to that.

If thoughts come up, then you don’t pursue thoughts that bring a sense of no ease. And you don’t stamp on them viciously in a way that gives you no sense of peace or ease. You don’t set yourself targets that you then strain to realise in a way that produces more pressure and lack of ease.

But just sitting there with the mind chattering on meaninglessly for ever is claustrophobic and has nothing to do with ease. So you have to relax into the sense of ease that you have already, that is telling you, ‘this is not ease’. Then without trying to stamp on the thoughts or give yourself a hard time become very simple about the whole thing.

There are these amazing thoughts popping up in the space of your awareness and you have no idea where they come from or what they are. And yet, when you let them be as they are, they aren’t anything except a display of some kind and in itself that display is very open and relaxed.

So you can let go on the out breath into the space of awareness or you can simply relax and let the breath and the thoughts speak to you … very simply in the space of awareness; they are already spacious. You don’t have to make them so. You could just be at ease with your experience in a very gentle and wholesome way.

There is nothing to fail at really. You either enjoy yourself or you don’t, but simply giving the time to it has an effect. So you can feel pleased about that and think of it as your contribution to the peace of the world.