“I don’t experience inner peace”, “I feel something is missing or that I’m not getting from meditation”, “I see nothing during the sessions”, “I don’t have any special or particular experience”, “I’ve been meditating regularly for a while and it seems that I’m not making major breakthroughs in my practice”, “I feel a little bit stuck”.
These are some of the usual comments, in a certain stage, I encounter as a meditation coach and instructor on Peace Revolution 42 days self-development program. I call this moment of the journey “the dark night of the practice”. The advice for this is: let go of expectations. Although this is profoundly correct, I found it not the most effective for these cases and somehow it leaves meditators a bit unsure of what that really means. Do I have to lower my standards? What is the point of meditation, then? These are some of the natural questions that arise once you get that piece of advice. Besides, letting go of expectations is not easy at all and it requires to let go of some part of ourselves which is attached to the expected outcome and particular desire. And that’s a lot. Letting go of yourself is quite a lot.
The Going Through
One of the ways I’ve found most supportive for “the dark night of the practice” is going step by step, layer by layer, understanding by understanding. There is no rush on this, it is an unlearning process that requires some patience and commitment to go through. But it’s totally worth it.
Some key points of this process are:
- Recognize and evaluate your attachment to results. Attachment differs from expectations. Having expectations is, many times, useful. In our professional life, for example, setting goals and expecting measurable, reliable and tangible results is key for our development. In our personal relationships expecting the minimum ethical is a healthy approach: a common ground in which two people meet without mistreatment, with respect for each individuality – allowing each party to flourish in the relationship space freely (without expecting or assuming they are this or that) and discover each other, perhaps endlessly, and with an even give and take exchange. And in some other areas like physical health, having expectations for certain results is totally fine. The problem arises when things don’t go our way or are not up to the level we wanted and worked for. The result doesn’t feel like we imagined, it doesn’t satisfy us as we dreamed of it. We may feel a little bit empty afterwards.
- Expect disappointment, frustration, and disenchantment at some point in the journey. Attachment creates suffering.
- Realize that attachment is counterproductive. When we have some goal in mind in meditation, we don’t allow our mind to rest, we keep it busy trying to figure out all the steps and techniques that need to get there. We are not meditating, we are just trying to exercise some control over our experience with the best of our intentions, probably. In this case, we sit to keep our mind active, not to still it.
- Allow yourself to be in a space free from demands. Get used to it. Take out some minutes of your day to free yourself from the burdens of success, frustration, other’s opinions, demands, duties, problems, responsibilities. Once you do that, you are just in the perfect inner environment for meditation.
Befriending with what we don’t like
“It is said that before entering the sea a river trembles with fear“. Khalil Gibran
Experiencing “the dark night of the practice” is not banal. It’s actually a quite profound and meaningful milestone. It puts us in contact with the root of many of our sufferings as human beings: attachment. Navigating these waters may feel discouraging, or disorientating at times, but once we reach the other shore, we understand it as a rite of passage, as a part of the journey of the ever-unfolding process of inner peace. We just have to keep practicing, to sit and meditate again the next day, to have some little patience, not to give up. The sweet fruit awaits.
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