I was pondering on a recent conversation I’d had about intention and affirmation as a means of motivation and a desire to live to our fullest potential. These practices can be helpful in bringing about shifts in thought from subconscious negative chatter that plagues many of us, to moving into a state where we experience more possibility and control. Of utmost Importance here is establishing a level of congruency so that what we say aligns somewhat with how we feel. This might mean using terms such as ‘I’m working on …’ rather than ‘I am….’ Statements eg ‘ I used to think I couldn’t dance, but I’m working on it now’ rather than ‘I am a great dancer’.
During the conversation, we touched on the need to recognise the difference between a positive affirmation and an expectation. I recalled the story of a spiritual teacher whom I’d once approached with a wish to become her student. Her reply was the following:
‘My dear, if you were to be my student, I would be expecting things from you – and I would be disappointed. And if I were to be your teacher, you would be expecting things of me- and you would be disappointed.’
In other words, each of us can be our own teacher. The important thing is to avoid unrealistic expectations. This is not to say we cannot have dreams and plans- these are what fuel our motivation and our creativity. However, if we expect things to go exactly as we plan them, then we are rigid in our outlook and sure to be disappointed.
The same can be said for our approach to meditation. The expectation is often that this will be the answer to all one’s stress and that calm and enlightenment will naturally descend in a veil from which one will emerge, transformed. The reality is often the opposite: we sit down on a chair or a cushion and duly begin to ‘follow our breath’,’ bringing the mind back every time it wanders off’ as we are instructed. We expect to be able to follow our breath to the count of ten, without too much hassle- I mean, logically, how hard can that possibly be? Then we sit (in expectation that something marvellous will happen) and follow the first breath- ‘easy peasy’ we think, second breath comes in but we’re already on to ‘how easy this is’ and ‘what a good meditator I’m going to be’, before we realise we’ve lost it… we are no longer counting the breaths but have allowed the mind to wander off. Having been instructed that this might happen and that we simply need to be kind to ourselves and bring our attention back to the breathing, we begin anew (with the expectation that this time we know what to look out for, so it’ll be a doddle)… and on it goes… one, two, ‘what shall I make for tea?’ ‘How much longer should I sit here?’ ‘Oh, no! I can’t even do this right!!!’ ‘What a waste of time’ ‘What good is this going to do anyway?’…
It’s easy to see why many of us give up on the practice when faced with the challenge of sitting still (something we rarely do and that is often frowned upon by others as being lazy) and having thoughts come up that we thought we’d buried and would rather not contemplate.
However, if we approach meditation with no expectation but with the knowledge that even a few moments of regular breathing can begin the process of calming the body and balancing body/mind; If we have the intention to sit for three/ five/ ten minutes and encourage our mind to stay present in the body, to begin to experience the mind in the body as opposed to its wandering off onto what should be done next, or what shouldn’t have been done in the past, we may begin to sense a sliver of space between our thoughts.
With the knowledge that balancing the body and mind can strengthen the immune system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (relax & digest mode) which, in turn, allows the prefrontal cortex to remain open, bringing clarity and creativity, we may be encouraged to sit more regularly and more frequently. Just as learning any new skill requires consistent dedication and practice, so too with meditation.
Each time we sit, we are strengthening the neural pathways that lead to subtle changes in perception, subtle changes in our responses to our lives and a deeper sense of wellbeing and peace. So, stay with it.. see what arises and just allow it as you stay present, still, silent and spacious…. No expectations…