We all meditate, or want to meditate, for different reasons. Maybe you need more calmness in your life, maybe you feel something is missing, or maybe you have a goal of becoming enlightened or 'awake.' For many of us we start meditating after some sort of crisis from which we need healing. Your own story may be different, but for all of us there was some sort of catalyst or drive that got us started.
All of these are good and valid reasons to meditate, but once we have started, once we have set foot on the path, it is important that we let go of them and not become driven by some sense of 'achievement.' This is hard for many of us, especially if you are a type-A person like me. I am used to setting goals and knocking them down - and that isn't how meditation works.
The truth is there are no Merit Badges for Meditation. Our practice is not to 'check something off our list.' Sadly with much of the media interest in Mindfulness over the past few years I have seen several commentators treat Mindfulness like a badge to collect. Of the many personal accounts published quite a few of them fall into one of these two categories: "I did it, so now I can move on to something else;" or "I tried it, but it didn't really do anything." Both of these responses stem from the same misconception - that there is something to achieve.
We can all fall into this trap. The teacher Phillip Moffitt says this in his essay on The Tyranny of Expectations:
On meditation retreats, I often work with yogis and their expectations. They will come to me for an interview and announce that they have had a "good sitting" or a "bad sitting," when they really are referring to the level of serenity or mindfulness they experienced. Likewise, yogis will come to a retreat or a meditation class with the expectation that it will pick up where the last one ended or that it will be better than the previous one. This is the delusion of expectations based on false notions of progress. Such expectations assume that you know what it is you are seeking, that pleasantness and lack of struggle characterize "getting there," when in reality, just the opposite is true at certain points. It is often not serenity that is needed by a student but the ability to stay present when the mind is caught in a storm. It is not hard to be clear when things are calm, but if you work diligently with mindfulness and compassion when things are difficult, you are in the vital training for your tumultuous daily life.This is thrown into sharp relief in the core practice of Metta Bhavana - Cultivation of Lovingkindness and Goodwill. This Metta - an unconditional form of love that neither looks for deservedness nor return - cannot be truly generated if we are looking for reward. If we sit and go through the form in the hope of personal achievement then by definition what we cultivate will not be unconditional. We do the practice because we believe it is important, not because we have anything to gain.
None of this is to say that meditation isn't a powerful tool for transforming our lives - it absolutely is. The subtlety is that in order to practice truly we have to let go of the desire for those achievements. There are no badges - and that's a good thing.
The link below is for a fully guided audio meditation on badges and Metta. You are welcome to listen at any time, but a few of us have committed to press 'play' together at the same time at 7pm PT Sunday July 19th. You are welcome to join us if you wish. Please feel free to share this with anyone else who you think may like it.