Many people who have attended a meditation seminar or come into contact with the topic of meditation for the !rst time are enthusiastic and full of inspiration. They firmly decide to meditate every day from now on, or at least three times a week. Most manage to do so, too … for about four days. Others keep it up for several weeks. Then the habits of everyday life gradually, imperceptibly take over again and the good resolutions are watered down, covered over, crumble or simply fade away.
We are all quite familiar with this sort of thing. From the resolution to lose weight, from the intention to stop smoking, from the age-old wish to be a good boy or girl, up to the universal wish to be a better person.
Better than what? Better than the person who has been looking back at us in the mirror for a few years and who has grown rather portly, with a somewhat perplexed, dejected gaze, or better than the undisciplined slacker we were in our youth? Better than average or better than my competitors?
But above all, better than WHAT?
There is an imaginary yardstick in the control center of our lives by which we constantly want and feel we need to measure ourselves. Too big, too small, too fat, too stupid.
When you start lifting weights, you start out light and increase the weight disk by disk. This is something you can measure. If you want to learn a new language, you struggle word by vocabulary word through the jungle of grammar up to the wide plateau of fluency. In both cases, we soon see the success of our efforts, it can be understood and immediately put to use.
When it comes to meditation, this sort of thing somehow doesn’t work. Sure, we feel the effect of the practice in one way or another, and we have all kinds of convincing experiences, otherwise we would not be inspired and motivated to continue. But these high crests of experience alternate with depths of disillusionment.
Meditation is both. Inspiring and disappointing.
Sometimes in quick succession, and sometimes disappointment and enthusiasm take turns in a way that is unforeseeable or surprising. Meditation is hard to pigeonhole. It seems to constantly elude our grasp whenever we try to make it predictable. This is because meditation is not what you think. It is not suited to being a constant source of self-affirmation. It does not !t any of our patterns of expectation, and becomes unwieldy whenever we want to misuse it for our own ends.
When we practice meditation to achieve a specific purpose or reach a specific goal, then this exercise will often do exactly what it is supposed to do – but yet again not at all. If we want to become calmer through meditation, it may be that the opposite happens. Maybe we have to realize that the one who wants to become calmer – that is, the one who wants to make use of meditation as an antidote to their restlessness – that this is precisely the person who has to calm down. To put it differently, whoever wants to achieve something will simply have to let go of this goal they want to achieve and give themselves a chance to achieve it unintentionally. Meditation and the absence of intent belong together.
They are a single entity and they appear together. An open attitude with respect to the effect and the goal is what makes this practice useful. All too many expectations or preconditions, and/or fixing on a plan and a goal, will obstruct the expected consequences and drive away the anticipated effects.
That is why it is difficult to retain the discipline and inspiration one may have felt and experienced as quite vivid and real during an intensive meditation seminar and carry them over into sustainable, regular meditation practice in everyday life. Whenever you make the purpose and reason for this practice dependent on a hoped-for result, then your expectation may be confirmed or disappointed. When disillusionment is seen as something negative, we throw in the towel and lose our motivation, which was oriented toward result, goal and success.
However, disappointment is part of meditation. From a certain viewpoint, it is even an essential foundation of meditation. Without suffering, dissatisfaction, disillusionment and frustration, we would never have come up with the idea of taking up this practice in the first place.
„Revulsion is the foot of meditation … as is taught“ are the words to a centuries-old Tibetan chant. Translated into today’s language, this refers to the fact that we are unsatis!ed, frustrated and disillusioned because life has not delivered what the gaudy advertising posters promise. Maybe we already had a suspicion that money and affluence do not make us happy; that „wanting to have“ does not make us as happy as „being able to give“; that egoism makes us lonely and that the addiction to security makes us prisoners of our own fear.
Only when we realize that our journey to absolute riches and consummate security will most likely lead us to a dead end does the realization begin to dawn on us that there could be more to life than always having to be the very best, the best-looking or the most successful, time after time.
When we recognize and accept disillusionment as a valuable part of our meditation experience, then, step by step, it will slowly become more than merely a foundation. Disillusionment becomes the way and the goal of meditation. Disillusionment in the most elemental sense of the word.
The end of the illusion.
We stop fooling ourselves.
We have arrived on the ground of reality.
Dis-illusioned, but happy.