You’ve been practicing meditation for a long time now, and seem to making no progress. In the beginning, wonderful things happened, but now it’s as if those wonderful things have all gone away, faded into the background, and you find yourself at square one again. Have you been wasting your time?
It’s so difficult to accept our present situation. We always want it to be different than it is, better, more spiritual, more meaningful. Ordinary life is so mundane and ordinary; surely that couldn’t be all there is; there must be more. Meditation promised us that there would be more, and when there wasn’t, we felt cheated, and we felt that we could have been doing something more meaningful with our lives, maybe helping others instead of being so self-enclosed and only interested in our own selfish development.
Instead of our hoped for freedom, we find disillusionment, and perhaps even look toward some other religion that promises fulfillment, but we’ve tried that. We’ve tried to psychologically transfer our responsibility to a savior, or a religion, but as we matured, it no longer worked for us. We knew in our heart of hearts that we were faking ourselves out, and although it was comforting, it was never real. ’Meditation certainly wasn’t comforting or fulfilling; it only made us realize how fruitless and unexciting life actually is! So here we are, nowhere, and feeling as if we are actually going backward, that there is no hope and no solution to our constant dissatisfaction.
When I heard the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths for the first time, I must admit; I was completely . . . under whelmed. I expected something much more metaphysical and mysterious; after all, I was coming from a Catholic background where the Churches’ magic, mystery, and miracles put all other religions to shame.
Take the Buddha’s First Noble Truth, for example: Suffering Exists! What’s the big deal about that! I already knew all about suffering, why do you think I became so good at escaping it? Suffering wasn’t going to catch up with me — no way. But it did, shortly after I began to meditate, and after the initial excitement of this new pastime wore off. I became absolutely miserable, simply because I was unable to escape the human condition of suffering, and I finally had to face it.
I could have stopped meditating, perhaps lost myself in some other illusion, after all, meditation was just another illusion when I began, thinking that I could use it to escape as I had always done in the past and hopefully escape this time forever. But it didn’t work out that way; instead of escaping, I found myself facing myself for the first time in my life, and it was frightening. But for some strange reason, I continued to meditate, maybe because somewhere deep inside I seemed to know that meditation was the only real thing that I had ever experienced.
Then one day I accepted myself as a human being, and I accepted the suffering that goes with the territory. I stopped running, and I stopped trying to wriggle out, and there was freedom in that, a freedom that I had never known before, because before that acceptance, I was running scared all the time, afraid that I wouldn’t stay ahead of that 800 pound gorilla that was right on my heels.
So the Buddha’s First Noble Truth finally lodged in my heart. Hell, I thought I was close to enlightenment; what a downer to realize that I was only a beginner just now realizing only the First Truth! But instead of being discouraged, for some reason I embraced this Truth about our human condition, and it hit me so hard that my faith in the Buddha, and all of his teachings, suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. Then I knew, that for me, there would never again be some weak finality where I would allow myself to be deluded as I had in the past.
My eyes opened — admittedly, only a little — but enough, and I would never let them close again.
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com