The Paradox of Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are gaining increasing popularity and are often seen as gateways to getting rid of stress and to peace and calmness.

However, most people who start to meditate realize very quickly that rather than calming the mind, it shows a mind that is frenzied and restless. The effort to calm it by focusing on an object, be it the breath or an image or a mantra, takes a lot of energy and force; and the moment this effort is relaxed even a bit, the restiveness comes flooding back in. More importantly, while this may lead to the meditator finding peace and quiet during the meditation, it may or may not translate into a similar state in the rest of her day.

The paradox is that when we let go of the effort and just be with whatever comes up, without getting caught in its story, the peace we are looking for manifests by itself. This is because Meditation is more about being than doing. It is the creation of a space which allows the workings of our mind to reveal themselves. The more we can just rest in this space without interfering in what the mind is doing – forcing it to stop, go a different way etc. – the greater our capacity to stay disentangled from the multiple stories and states the mind is in. This then, is what leads to the calm and quiet we are after.

One of keys to meditation is to stop treating it like a project with an end goal. Whenever we make something into a project, we get embroiled in measuring our progress against a plan, evaluating how we are doing vs. our expectations and so on. However, the more we do this, the more likely we are to be frustrated by our meditation practice. Paradoxically, the more we can let go of our ideas about where we should be headed in our meditation, the more likely it is to bring the desired peace and quiet. The wonder of meditation is that each session can be quite different. The point is not to get anywhere but to fully be where we are, which needs flexibility, openness and curiosity without a fixed agenda. Many people find that while they may not be able to keep their attention on their breath after meditating for months or even years, somehow the rest of their life seems to change – they are less easily ruffled, calmer and able to interact with others from a place of silence.

As J. Krishnamurti said:
Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end.

If you would like to find out more and work with this paradox, join us for The Essentials of Meditation: a 5-week course with Charu and Vaishali, starting May 11.