When I was first starting my journey into self-development, meditation, and Buddhist philosophy I was still studying music at university here in Melbourne, Australia.
The music school I attended was and still is, one of the most elite music schools in Australia. Invite only, of course.
If you’ve watched the movie, Whiplash, I can vouch for the authenticity of the atmosphere of a toxic environment fuelling competition to excel depicted in the story.
Although I did not have a tyrannical music professor, I was very much an A-type kid and would practice for hours – sometimes as much as 12 hours a day.
So when I came to Buddhism I brought this A-type mindset with me.
At first, this seemed to work for me as I devoured book after book to the point I was holding up my end in deep abstruse conversations about the nature of consciousness and reality with students with decades of experience on their side.
And I took pride in my ability to recall page numbers from a book when citing a reference as a counterargument in these discussions.
But this meant naught when it came to the contemplative side of the practice.
So here are some lessons from hard-won battles with myself over the years.
So, if you’ve ever asked yourself, does meditation work, really? The answer is yes!
The 3 Pillars of Meditation
There are three key factors you want to foster in your practice, regardless of how long you’ve been meditating.
These are relaxation, stability, and clarity.
1 – Relaxation
This is a certain kind of relaxation.
It is not relaxation like going to sleep or watching a sunset.
Rather this kind of relaxing is all about releasing psychological and physiological tension in the body and mind without allowing dullness to arise.
Sounds like an easy enough task, right?
Now there is the potential for dullness to arise naturally at this point.
This problem arises due to our habit of sleep.
Every night, we allow ourselves to relax and for dullness to take us away to Lala land.
We mix relaxation with dullness in order to go to sleep but the result of this can be seen when trying to deepen relaxation.
The solution to this problem is to continue to relax more and more deeply by focusing on the release of somatic tension aided by imagination, without losing the clarity you currently have.
2 – Stability
To the extent you can do this, stability will naturally arise.
But again, this is not the kind of mental stability you might first imagine.
There is no to little effort required to sustain this kind of stability.
It is not like the focus and concentration we would normally employ in our daily lives to say, get through the afternoon!
Or stay awake through a boring meeting.
Rather consciousness natural stills when the tension of the body/mind system is caused through striving ceases.
What can happen at this point, however, is that because we normally use effort to focus, when stability arises the egoic mind will claim it…”oh I’m meditating well today.“
And if left unchecked tension is introduced.
Notice any movement as it arises in your mind and release the buildup around the point of tension.
If it is psychological tension such as the ego claiming something for itself, release it.
If it is physiological tension in a certain area of your nervous system, release it.
So it’s not about relaxing again but rather about allowing the mind to be in its now natural state without intervention from the egoic mind.
3 – Clarity
As a result of this kind of stability, clarity will naturally shine through.
Clarity allows for insight but clarity is best allowed to fully manifest as stability deepens.
Now there are two kinds of clarity – subjective and objective clarity.
While I won’t go into the difference here, suffice it to say, clarify has a lot of energy behind it and this energy will give vividness to your meditation that comes only when the mind is stable
The vividness of clarity can overstimulate the mind overstimulated at first, and the mind can feel brittle.
A finer type of tension can be introduced at this point as a result.
This energy is like a buzzing that won’t let the mind fully penetrate the object.
Stop the effort of fine-tuning clarity.
The Results of Correct Practice
When you practice correctly, the results will transform your life quite naturally.
So all you need to do is understand some meditation theory and show up each day to practice.
It is not as if you need to do anything over and above this.
Study to understand the practice deeply; implement.
Because the very process of learning to meditate will be the catalyst for the transformation, the rest is taken care of for you.
Will this come quickly?
Maybe, but probably not.
In fact, the more you push the more ego is involved and as a result the slower the progress.
So stop trying. But do leverage enthusiasm.
It is paradoxical indeed.
Love, compassion, wisdom, and power all come from this state of being, once we have found this balance.