Years ago when I first started meditating I had some pretty high expectations. I envisioned that as I became “better” at the practice, I would eventually achieve a Buddha-like calm that would carry me above the fray of daily disappointments and frustrations. I would be composed, kind, and serene in all situations. That has not happened, even after years of practice. I am not transported to a higher plane, nor am I at one with the Universe, nor am I awakened. Sometimes, I’m not even awake.
Quite often when sitting in mediation, I’m beset with nagging reminders about things I forgot to do. Thanks, unconscious, for making me realize NOW at 11 p.m. that I left my cell phone at my sister’s house. Or else I drift into a reverie that leads me randomly through old hurts and new grievances. Eventually I realize with a start that instead of floating in a state of higher consciousness, I’m reliving some very negative feelings associated with mean Marsha, my kindergarten nemesis.
I once complained to a friend whose serenity and spiritual insights I valued that I wasn’t getting anywhere meditating. She asked me where it was that I was trying to go. As a fairly goal-oriented person, I stared at her in surprise. Why do something, if it doesn’t lead you anywhere—to a better self, a better life, a better place?
She suggested in her gentle, nonjudgmental way, that perhaps I could focus more on the journey than on the destination. That constantly trying to measure success in terms of consecutive minutes without a distracting thought, or total serenity in the face of a crisis was missing the point. Meditation, she said, is about being, not doing. It’s about facing the silence inside ourselves and in that aloneness, finding connection with our true selves, and with others.
As you can no doubt see, she was much more spiritually evolved than me. But what she said made a kind of sense, and it’s why I continue to meditate despite not achieving my “Serenity Now!” goals. I can still get really mad when someone cuts me off in traffic. Occasionally I still have to sit on my hands in a meeting so I don’t throttle the person who keeps droning on about issues already asked and answered. I still lie awake sometimes in the wee small hours of the morning, worrying about problems that aren’t mine to solve, and plotting solutions no one has asked me for—the curse of the conscientious control freak.
But there are times, too, when I can be the observer of my own actions, when I have a moment of clarity that wells up from that still place within. Instead of going to default behaviors: irritation, anxiety, anger, frustration, I’m able to pause and just be, if only for the moment. And though the chaos of living sometimes pulls me away from meditation, often when I need it most, I always return. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Om.