Ajahn Brahm (1951-present): A happy meditator
When people meditate they often use too much force; they just keep bashing away at the same place. Lack of progress isn’t always due to insufficient effort or motivation, or too little time spent on the meditation cushion or the walking path. Sometimes it’s just that the wisdom isn’t sharp enough to get through the problems, and if you only had a bit more wisdom, you would suffer less and achieve deeper states more quickly. Thus cultivating the factor of wisdom is extremely important.
The first of the noble truths as expounded in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is the truth of suffering (SN 56:11). You have to focus your wisdom faculty on that suffering. Suffering just is; it has nothing to do with whether or not you’re trying to avoid it. Suffering is the nature of the world, the nature of the body, the nature of the mind. Things don’t always go the way you want them to. Occasionally they do, but never as often as you’d like. The suffering that comes from being frustrated with meditation practice – being bored or feeling stuck or whatever – is an aspect of the first noble truth. Disappointment, not getting what you want in life – basically the five khandhas – this is all suffering. So don’t force the issue and say, “This isn’t right; it shouldn’t be this way; I’m doing something wrong.” Instead, stop, focus, and remind yourself that this is just the nature of things. If meditation doesn’t go the way you want it to, or if the body is aching or the mind is sleepy, remember: that’s just the nature of the body and the mind.
A wonderful thing happens when you get wise to the nature of the body, the mind, and life itself. When you realize that it’s all just nature, just a process of cause and effect, you also realize that it’s not your problem anymore. You see that detachment comes from the wisdom of recognizing the nature of suffering in life: you can’t do much about it, so you leave it alone. When you leave it alone, you develop the mental attitude that is aware and alert, that watches but doesn’t get involved. If you don’t arouse the doer in the difficult moments, you’re actually turning a bad meditation into a source of future calm. In fact, the whole job of meditation practice is putting effort into how you’re experiencing things, not worrying about what you’re experiencing. Focus on how you’re aware of the hindrances, the desire and ill will, the boredom and frustration. What’s important is your attitude toward the situations you come across in meditation and how you react to them, rather than the situations themselves.
To establish the right attitude, we need to use our wisdom. When we realize that our experiences are just nature, we don’t react by feeling afraid, guilty, frustrated, or disappointed. We don’t lose our confidence, thinking, “I can’t do it.” Of course you can’t do it! I can’t do meditation either. Every time Ajahn Brahm starts to meditate, he messes it up. But I’ve got enough wisdom to know that if I step out of the way, a beautiful, clear space appears between me and what I’m watching. Then there’s no frustration or boredom. If those feelings still linger in the background, you just leave them alone. You don’t get involved or create more problems. You just watch and gather the data.
(The above is excerpted from Ajahn Brahm’s brilliant book on meditation called ‘The Art of Disappearing,’ a review of which can be read here.)