Student’s Question: Why does my meditation practice feel like I’m starting from the beginning again?

A student writes:

For some months I have been doing about 20-35 minutes daily meditation. For a while my meditation seemed to go very deep but now suddenly my meditation is like a huge effort and my mind full of rubbish. I feel like I’m back at the whole start of the process again.

Lama Shenpen responds:

Yes, that is how we all experience the path. It seems the more we practice the more we notice how much of the time we are not! Noticing that kind of thing is practice actually. Before we just went along with all that thinking that was just life, then we experience something more genuine and real and it highlights the rest as rubbish. But it is important not to just treat it as rubbish. Every bit of rubbish is a jewel.

Whatever is happening is a Dharma opportunity, however bad and negative it seems. Once we have noticed it, the transformation process has begun. It often seems that we are back at square one but that is because reality is right here in every experience. It is like a gate. We keep stepping in and out. When we are in a good space it seems like that is all there is and always will be and when we step out, it seems like a huge effort to get back into the space.

It is as if there are guardians around the gate telling us it’s all much too difficult to step out again. But actually it is a lie. It is actually easy to step right back into the space of the path to Awakening. The problem is our habit of believing it is hard. We believe the voice that says this is all some kind of big deal and that we have regressed and that we cannot stop and wake up even for a few moments. So when you catch that lie, just stop for a few moments and see. Just see if it really is that difficult or not. Just allow a short gap and just see what bubbles up when you do that?


Before it felt spacious, but now my breath seems to come and go into such a small, confined space, and I cannot get any sense of a larger space, only this little claustrophobic space around me.

Lama Shenpen:

That is because you are approaching it with some kind of anxiety. The important thing is to approach it fresh as if you had never experienced space before – just gently wondering what it could mean – as if you had no idea at all.

Gently explore that little claustrophobic space. How big is it actually? Three feet all round? Or just in front? Above? Then what? What is the other side of that boundary? What is that boundary in fact? Is it inside or outside? Are you sure it is such a tight space? Or is it a feeling? Turn towards the feeling and be gentle and interested in how it relates to space.

Just keep wondering in a gentle and interested way.